Lebanon News

STL analyst implies Hezbollah pressure affected witnesses

BEIRUT: The defense for Salim Ayyash, one of four accused of involvement in the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others, questioned prosecution witness Andrew Donaldson again regarding how he selected evidence to include in prosecution reports. The defense continued building the case that Donaldson had been overly selective with relevant information when compiling reports on the cellphone usage and attribution that has become central to the tribunal. During the cross-examination, Donaldson implied that he believed some information was unreliable as it had been obtained from witnesses under pressure from Hezbollah.

Emile Aoun, lead defense counsel for Ayyash, referenced various witnesses who stated that they did not believe Ayyash used a mobile phone over a certain period when Donaldson suggested that, given the setting and local context, the information was not completely reliable.

“Every single witness is able to remember every phone number, where everybody lives, who does what,” the prosecution analyst said. When it came to whether Ayyash had a mobile phone, “every single witness goes the same way.” Some witnesses were “interviewed in Hezbollah areas, they were brought in with a Hezbollah solicitor,” Donaldson noted. “You will be able to read [the witness statements] on your own and form your own conclusions,” he said. The expert added that “as interviews progressed there was an increased facilitation [by Hezbollah] to help interview the witnesses ... I think context is everything.”

Aoun emphasized that none of Ayyash’s family members or business associates who had been interviewed positively confirmed the phone number suggested by the prosecution as belonging to him. Aoun added that none of this information had been mentioned in the prosecution’s reports. As on previous occasions, Donaldson responded that he wouldn’t expect a witness to remember a string of numbers that (as argued by the prosecution) had been used by Ayyash many years previously. Such information would not have been of sufficient weight to warrant inclusion in the final reports, he said.

The defense counsel also noted that one family member, interviewed in 2010, had said Ayyash had been on the hajj pilgrimage five years previously – around the same time as the bombing. “Don’t you think this is relevant information that should have been included in the report?” Aoun asked. “If I felt it was truly accurate and pertinent,” Donaldson responded. “We all know, sir, that witnesses can be out by months or years.”

Aoun suggested that the prosecution had not only been overly selective of information, but had completely dropped the witness statements of some of Ayyash’s family members because they were unsupportive of the prosecution case. Donaldson rejected this, stating that these witness statements were removed because it was proving difficult to get these witnesses to testify in court, and continuing to use the statements might “tie up the prosecution.”

He noted that he had previously drawn extensively upon these statements and had to devote a great deal of time to reworking his reports after their removal. “These are actually very helpful statements, and that’s why I relied upon them so thoroughly,” he said. Aoun concluded his cross-examination of Donaldson at the end of Tuesday’s session. The prosecution analyst will be questioned by another member of Ayyash’s defense team Wednesday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 18, 2017, on page 2.

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