Lebanon News

Coverage maps somewhat inaccurate: STL testimony

File - A view of a sign on the exterior of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, The Netherlands, January 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos)

BEIRUT: Defense counsel questioned the accuracy of cellular coverage maps at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Monday. The maps related to an attribution report linking accused suspect Assad Sabra to a cellular device allegedly used to organize the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Defense counsel David Young – representing the interests of Sabra – questioned prosecution analyst Andrew Donaldson on why coverage maps were not routinely used in court cases in the U.K., where both Donaldson and Young are from.

“In my experience in the U.K., it is because [coverage maps] are not provided to the police,” Donaldson responded. Young immediately lambasted his answer.

“Is that really your evidence?” he asked. “Are you suggesting that these very suggestive maps in a serious organized crime are not used in court because no one hands it over to police?”

The defense counsel then drew upon his own knowledge to inform the chamber that coverage maps are normally rejected in U.K. courts due to their lack of precision. Using this information, he continued to criticize Donaldson’s testimony.

Donaldson has testified before the Trial Chamber over several months and has authored several cellular attribution reports relating to the four indicted suspects in the case.

“I accept that they are rarely used, it is in very rare instances in which this material is actually handed over,” Donaldson said. “I recall you asked for my experience, and that [is mine].”

“I am sure I’m not in the habit of making jokes in front of the Trial Chamber,” he added.

Following a bout on the semantics of Young’s questions, the prosecution analyst agreed that coverage maps were not wholly accurate or reliable. Nonetheless, he argued, it did not mean they were useless.

“I certainly accept that they don’t provide a complete and totally accurate photo [of a situation] but I believe they ... are one of the better indicators we have,” Donaldson said. As an example, he named a U.K. court case in which the residence of a murderer was found with the aid of a “predictive hotspot” – a location with internet access.

According to data previously brought to the attention of the trial chamber, the margin of error in accuracy throughout Beirut’s southern suburbs ranges in some cases up to 40 percent. The area has been heavily cited by the prosecution as the place where all the indicted suspects lived in the years leading up to the 2005 bombing.

“If there is a margin of error of 30 to 40 percent ... you can’t be too precise about the communications data, can you?” Young said. “I’m putting a simple point [forward] that your figures over that period ... [may be inaccurate],” he added.

The argument raised by the defense at Monday’s abbreviated hearing of the STL is not uncommon.

In order to debunk the prosecution’s case, which relies heavily on cellular data to tie the defendants to the assassination conspiracy, the defense has long interrogated the validity of the data.

The STL resumes Tuesday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 26, 2017, on page 2.

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