Jan 16, 2014

First day of trial

Today was the first day of the trial against the four suspects in the Ayyash et al. case concerning the attack on former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2005. The Prosecution held its opening speech, marked by a detailed description of the evidence it has collected against the four accused and a fifth accused, Merhi, whose case has not (yet) been joined to the Ayyash case.

The evidence the Prosecution has collected over the years seems to be limited mostly to indirect evidence. As the opening speech showed, most of its case seems to be built on phone records, and patterns of phone calls between the accused and several other persons. The accused persons are said to have owned several phones that were connected to each other through different networks of phones, some connected only to each other, whilst other phones were also used to contact the outside world. The Prosecution has conveniently identified these different networks of phones by giving each group a color in the indictment, and setting out the details of each group.

My impression of today's opening speech was that it was not as clear, dramatic and interesting as one would expect an opening statement to be. An opening statement gives the party the chance to present its case, generally without being interrupted by the opposing party. The Prosecutor, Norman Farrell and his Senior Trial Counsel, Graeme Cameron, outlined details of the evidence against the four, and in my view did not take this opportunity to let the public feel the outrage of these terrorist attacks. Apart from a few interesting remarks at the beginning which could make good headlines, the focus was on the core of the evidence, the phone patterns.

Perhaps the Prosecution did not want to put on a show with the accused's benches empty, thus avoiding to appear too strong in comparison to the absent defendants? Or perhaps they wish to inform the defense that they are serious about this trial and by focusing on the--boring--evidence, they want to send a message that they are not overly dramatizing this event? In any case, for the observer the opening of this trial was, to say the least, not too interesting. Tomorrow the Prosecution will finalize its opening speech, and then it will be the victims' turn. On Monday, the defense teams are expected to give their opening speeches, and it will be interesting to see what their statements will be like and how they will respond to the Prosecution's case.

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