Lebanon News

STL: ‘Three-day’ cross-examination enters ninth day

The Judges Walid Akoum, Janet Nosworthy, David Re, Micheline Braidy and Nicola Lettier (LtoR) in the courtroom of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, The Netherlands, January 16 , 2014. (REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos/POOL)

BEIRUT: Frustration at the slow progress of the cross-examination of prosecution communications analyst Andrew Donaldson by defense counsel for Assad Sabra, accused of complicity in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, came to the surface Thursday. President of the Trial Chamber Judge David Re was visibly exasperated when the day’s proceedings came to an end and defense counselor David Young stated he needed several further hours to question the witness. “Mr. Young, you said it would take two to three days,” he noted, “today is day nine. Tomorrow will be day 10.” Young responded that the questioning was taking “far longer than I ever believed it could.”

Young spent the day attempting to undermine the conclusions drawn by Donaldson in his reports on cellphone attribution. Young pointed out that 24 individuals had been questioned regarding the number ending 018 that Donaldson attributed to Sabra. None of them, as Donaldson confirmed, had positively attributed the number to Sabra.

One witness had stated that he had been asked by Sabra to contact his mother if he decided to sell his business. The only reasonable explanation, Young proposed, was that Sabra did not own a phone at all. Donaldson suggested alternatives noting that Young’s point actually supported his own evidence, in which he had previously argued that Sabra did not own a phone after the assassination, instead he used that of his wife Hala.

Young argued that the fact none of those questioned had been able to positively attribute the phone to Sabra was in itself a negative indicator. Donaldson disagreed, noting that many had been approached by the investigators when they may have had only one call with the number attributed to Sabra, and this may have been many years previously; “they may reasonably not remember,” he said. Young argued that it had not been considered a negative indicator “because it’s simply not consistent with your case.” Donaldson rejected the suggestion.

Much of the latter part of Thursday’s session was spent by Young querying why two other suspects, referred to as “Alternative User One” and “Alternative User Two,” had been ruled out early on in the investigation. The suspects were mentioned in a number of memos passed between Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces and the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, for whom Donaldson was at that point working, at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009.

Young noted that Alternative User One had disappeared shortly after the assassination, according to the ISF, which he suggested was incriminating. Other factors linked this potential suspect to the 018 number, including the fact that the 018 number was used to contact a woman associated with this other suspect.

Donaldson, however, was not convinced. “You’re taking a very early lead that was developed and then put aside,” he said. “Investigations may begin with one name [that are subsequently] perhaps eliminated.”

He noted that one of the other factors used to link Alternative User One to the 018 number by the ISF was contact with another landline of a female which the ISF could not recall at the time of the memo being written. “I don’t think we could present that as high quality linkage,” Donaldson said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 29, 2017, on page 2.

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