Who killed Rafik Hariri?

The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was a heinous crime not only because the murder was morally reprehensible. It was also heinous because, predictibly, it gave the Bush administration an opening to expand its saber-rattling crusade in the Middle East.

The Bush administration did not waste a minute before pinning responsibility for the murder on Syria, recalling the U.S. ambassador from Damascus and threatening tough measures to “punish those responsible.”

Yet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted that the killer or killers are unknown. “We’re not laying blame,” she said. “It needs to be investigated.” The administration argues that 14,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon should be withdrawn because they failed to prevent the assassination. But 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq have not prevented hundreds of assassinations. If failure to curb violence is a yardstick, then U.S. troops should be brought home from Iraq now.

The record shows that Syria has helped stabilize Lebanon after a decade of civil war, an Israeli invasion, and U.S. intervention that brought terrible death and destruction to the people of Lebanon and to 342 U.S. Marines.

Similarly, Syria invited UN peacekeepers to patrol the base of Syria’s Golan Heights since it was occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. The Syrians have never wavered in their demand that Israel withdraw from the Golan.

Yet Syria has not violated the frontier since the UN “blue helmets” arrived. It has been one of the most peaceful zones in the world.

Syria has no motive for destabilizing the Middle East. It is the Bush administration that keeps stirring the pot, branding Iran an “outpost of tyranny,” and now menacing Syria with military intervention. Violence has served Bush well as a pretext to expand the occupation and domination of a region with the world’s richest oil reserves.

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Make ’em responsible

Merck & Co. until recently produced Vioxx, an arthritis drug, the long-term use of which has been linked to a higher incidence of stroke and heart attack. Merck kept the drug on the market as long as possible to increase company profits, even though it knew the drug could be deadly.

This outrageous corporate irresponsibility is not limited to Merck, or even the medical industry. Corporations — including auto, medical, insurance, tobacco, mining, chemical and others — have been quietly killing people with dangerous products or practices for decades. Remember the Pinto? Thalidomide babies? And what about the cigarette companies?

Class-action lawsuits against corporate killers have been a cornerstone in fighting these policies. Lawsuit victories have resulted in payments for medical and funeral expenses, as well as other expenses associated with harmful products. They have also included punitive damages — sums awarded as a deterrent against future deadly corporate recklessness.

Around the country, there have been class action lawsuits against the tobacco industry, against companies that have knowingly endangered their employees by exposing them to asbestos, or whose factories are polluting our waters. Such lawsuits should be championed. They bring a small amount of justice to those who have been harmed and make the corporations, scared of lost profits, think twice.

However, Congress and the president apparently don’t think so. The Senate on Feb. 10 passed a bill that would restrict national class-action lawsuits by forcing them out of state courts and before federal judges, thereby making it harder — and in many cases impossible — to file such suits. The House has said it will also pass the bill, and the president will sign it. It is absolutely appalling that 72 out of 100 senators, in the pocket of big business, have voted to allow, essentially, more flaming Pintos, more asbestos poisoning, and more heart attacks from drugs like Vioxx.

“This is another example of big business stepping on the rights of workers,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. The American people should be outraged at this betrayal, and they are. Many people’s organizations, elected officials, state attorneys general and others have denounced the bill. Now is the time to step up the fight for corporate accountability.