Lebanon News

Definitions debate stalls progress at STL

BEIRUT: The definition of a “single-user” cellphone prolonged the defense’s cross-examination of prosecution analyst Andrew Donaldson during Friday’s hearing at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. A veteran of the tribunal, Donaldson has appeared before the Trial Chamber over several months to testify on his reports regarding the cellular usage of the accused suspects. Cellular devices used by indicted suspects in the case of the 2005 Beirut bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri have been organized into multiple categories based on usage patterns. Donaldson defined two of these patterns of device usage as “single-user” and “multiuser.”

Over countless hearings, the prosecution analyst defined single-user cellphones as devices principally used by one of the indicted suspects. While other individuals may have used the device at one point or another, Donaldson explained that a device would still be considered “single-user” as long as it was not intentionally shared.

Multiuser phones, however, were intentionally shared between one of the indicted suspects and another individual – commonly identified as a family member.

Despite these repeated definitions, David Young, defense counsel representing the interests of Assad Sabra, pressed Donaldson further on the exact definition.

“I genuinely don’t understand,” Young said after suggesting that a cellphone labeled “Purple 018” was incorrectly identified as a single-user phone. “Can you explain sincerely what a single user means, ’cause I assumed, mistakenly, that single user means a single user,” the defense counsel asked Donaldson.

The analyst noted that he had already provided such definitions, referring the defense counsel to transcriptions of previous hearings.

“I will use a practical example and hope to make it clear,” Donaldson added. “I own a mobile phone. I am a single user of the mobile phone. I may get a phone call when I’m driving and pass the phone to my wife who would answer it. It would not make my phone a multiuser phone. [She] would be an occasional user due to circumstance. ... Can we agree that a single-user phone can be used by others on occasion? I’ve discussed this on multiple occasions,” Donaldson said.

His definition, however, was still unsatisfactory to the defense counsel, who then added that Donaldson’s usage of the term “occasional user” – employed in the example of his wife – was a new term admitted into evidence and therefore needed an official definition.

“You expressed this morning the definition of an occasional user and you used your wife as an example. Have you defined an occasional user in any of your reports?” Young asked. Donaldson said he had not, citing that such a term was “common sense, born out of life experience.”

The cross-examination continued down the same line, creating an endless loop in Friday’s proceedings. The intensity of detail over the past three hearings prompted President of the Trial Chamber Judge David Re to adjourn early to give the defense and prosecution analyst some respite.

The four defendants are undergoing trial in absentia, making corroborating their movements through cellular data in the months surrounding the 2005 attack crucial for the prosecution in making its case.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2017, on page 2.

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