Lebanon News

STL defense questions covert network narrative

BEIRUT: Defense counselor Mohamed Aouini questioned Special Tribunal for Lebanon expert witness Gary Platt Tuesday on inconsistent cellphone activity attributed to alleged covert networks used by the defendants. Over the past two months, Platt has testified on behalf of the prosecution regarding cellphone records linking the four defendants to the Feb. 14, 2005, Beirut bombing that assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Twenty-one others were also killed in the blast.

The prosecution contends conspirators organized the plot via four covert cell networks, which have been color-coded for clarity during the STL investigation. Although the prosecution delineated these networks as covert groups used by the conspirators, the defense countered Tuesday that numerous phone calls made by phones in the green and purple groups did not always abide by covert strategies. Aouini, representing Hassan Habib Merhi – one of the defendants in the case, all of whom are being tried in absentia – implied that inconsistencies exhibited in the green and purple phone groups should spark debate over the nature of their roles in the plot.

“If we take into consideration [the] activity of all other green phones ... we will see that a number of them are in contact with phones outside the green network, and some would even make phone calls to landlines,” Aouini said, suggesting that such behavior was contrary to the principle of secrecy. Addressing Platt, Aouini continued: “You’re a researcher, an expert in criminal affairs. But if I [can] figure out who these landlines [belonged to] and who the [cellphone] users are, this [would be] contrary to the [suspects’ supposed covert strategies].”

Such inconsistencies did not preclude the fact that members of those groups were tied to key events in the plot’s orchestration, Platt said.

Platt argued instead that such inconsistencies were evidence of human error on the part of the defendants, which they may only have become aware of following the assassination. “I think they realize[d] their mistake a bit too late, and if criminals didn’t make mistakes, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

Without the defendants available to testify in court, call records have been a critical component of the case for both prosecution and defense. Rather than presenting an alternative narrative, the defense has been forced to exclusively refute the prosecution’s interpretation of events using the same cellphone data.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 22, 2017, on page 2.

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