Lebanon News

Witness not necessarily expert in co-location: STL defense

BEIRUT: Monday’s session of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon came to a premature end after the defense and prosecution argued over expert witness Andrew Donaldson’s qualifications to testify on cellular co-location evidence. Donaldson, a former investigator for the Office of the Prosecution, had testified at the STL in previous years. Appearing before the trial chamber Monday, Donaldson argued that his experience regarding cellular investigations qualified him to give an expert opinion on co-location evidence – data linking two or more cellular devices to the same cellular coverage area during a short phone call.

The five suspects indicted for the 2005 Beirut bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others are being tried in absentia. Thus, cellular evidence has been critically important for the prosecution’s case. But investigative methodology proving cellular links and co-location has not been officially proven or legally systematized, rendering much of the investigation up for debate.

When Trial Chamber President Judge David Re asked Donaldson to stipulate his qualifications for giving an expert opinion on co-location, the witness answered, “In terms of a formally recognized course [on co-location], I have not had one. I’m not aware, in my experience, that these courses exist, but I have been out of the U.K. system for a while.”

Donaldson argued that his experience in cellular investigations gave him credibility to accurately comment on the topic. Prosecution counselor Laurence Carrier-Desjardins attested that the prosecution had found Donaldson aptly prepared to perform the job.

“He has had 17 years of experience, of which 10 is based on Lebanese call data records. He has significant experience in conducting co-location analysis,” Carrier-Desjardins said. “There is no degree in co-location or specific training. Mr. Donaldson’s experience was developed on the job ... we cannot disregard 10 years.”

Defense counselor Chad Mair remained adamant that Donaldson’s background did not grant him the proper authority to comment on co-location in the trial.

“Co-location is an area requiring special skills and training. ... He has had minimal training. ... His work on the police force touched upon cell-site data, but he quite candidly admitted he did not specialize in this area,” Mair said. “Mr. Donaldson conceded that he knows just as much as anyone about mobile networks in this room. ... His opinions do not have probative value.”

The judges of the Trial Chamber ended Monday’s session early in order to deliberate on whether Donaldson would be returning to testify this week.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 09, 2017, on page 2.

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