Jan 20, 2014

Defence opening statements

Today Defence counsel for the first two defendants, Mr. Mustafa Badreddine and Mr. Hussein Hassan Oneissi, had the opportunity to present their opening statements, after the Prosecution and Legal Representatives of the Victims presented their opening speeches last Thursday and Friday.

Mr. Korkmaz for Badreddine was the first to start today, and he started of by announcing that his remarks would be short as this was not the appropriate time for the Defence to highlight its case. The Prosecution must prove that his client is guilty; it is not for the Defence to prove his innocence. He said that there have been significant delays in this trial, and that they were not caused by the Defence. He highlighted the lack of cooperation with the Defence by the Lebanese state, which was later reiterated by counsel for Oneissi. Both teams also emphasized the fact that the whilst the Prosecution had ample time and means to investigate and prepare for the trial, the Defence lacked both time and means to do so.

Mr. Courcelle-Labrousse for the defendant Oneissi elaborated on the fact that this is an in absentia trial, and that he has not had any contact with his client, be it direct or indirect. Oneissi is not participating in his trial, and his counsel does not know why: is it for personal reasons, or political reasons? He raised the question, as did his co-counsel Mr. Yasser Hassan after him, whether his client was even alive. Mr. Courcelle-Labrousse furthermore indicated that a lot of the information gathered before and during the Prosecution's investigation remains unavailable to the judges, thus suggesting that the Prosecution has been selective in its presentation of the evidence available to the Chamber.

Counsel for both defendants already alluded to their defense strategies in regard to the evidence based on the telephone records analysis put forward by the Prosecution. The Prosecution attributed guilt on the basis of technical analysis of phone records and the geographical colocation thereof. Mr. Korkmaz stressed that the Prosecution has no documentary evidence or witness statement that would identify his client as taking part in the 14th February 2005 attack. Rather, the Prosecution deduces its conclusion from circumstantial evidence alone, which is insufficient to find proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, states counsel for Oneissi.

Another interesting element of the Defence strategy seems to relate to the Prosecution's failure to explore alternative scenarios. If the Defence can indeed prove that relevant alternative scenarios have not been (properly) investigated by the Prosecution, this would be an effective strategy and one of the few strategies that counsel can realistically have in an in absentia trial. Given that the first two Defence teams chose for short opening statements and failed to mention examples, it remains to be seen whether they can indeed prove that the Prosecution failed to search for alternative scenarios and whether those were realistic in relation to the theory as set out in the Indictment.

The trial is expected to continue this Wednesday 22nd January with the first Prosecution witnesses; the other two Defence teams will not hold opening statements.

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