Mar 13, 2014

Summary of witness testimony 4 – 10 February 2014

This blog post summarizes the last days of the Prosecution case before the start of the joinder hearing. In the mean time, the Trial Chamber has ordered the case of the fifth accused Merhi be joined to the case of Ayyash et. al, and ordered a stay of the proceedings until mid-May in order to give time to the defence for Merhi to prepare its case. In the mean time, the Merhi defence has filed a request for certification to appeal the joinder decision. The request argues that the Trial Chamber violated Mr. Merhi’s defence rights when issuing the joinder, and that an appeal against the order is warranted, however, the requirements for filing an appeal with this tribunal are quite strict (see Rule 126(C) of the Rules ofProcedure and Evidence). At the time of posting this blog, the Trial Chamber has not yet ruled upon this request.

4 February 2014

Witness #10: Mr. Assaad Nohra (PRH139)
Mr. Nohra testifies through video linkage. This witness is now a brigadier-general at the Internal Security Forces (ISF). Mr. Nohra was the head of Forensic Laboratories Bureau of the ISF when the bomb attack on former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his convoy occurred. Mr. Nohra explains the structure of forensic investigations within the ISF at the relevant time:

The Forensic Bureau at the time was divided into three bureaus: The Forensic Laboratories Bureau, the Identification Bureau, and the Accidents Bureau. And our work focused on the following. The Accidents Bureau focuses on the crime scene. It examines the crime scene and gathers the evidence and traces. The Identification Bureau examines the finger-prints and the sketches. The Forensic Laboratories Bureau carries out the necessary analysis, whether chemical, biological, or physical. And then we organize a report with the results of the analysis and we give the necessary information for the investigation.

The witness testifies that the law stipulates that the Forensic Laboratories Bureau (FLB) does not go to a crime scene, but only receives evidence at the bureau to carry out the necessary analysis. The FLB was mainly involved in DNA analysis of human remains samples that were sent to the bureau to be sent on to private laboratories to be analyzed.  Some samples were sent through the FLB, others were sent straight to the private laboratories by the investigators. Some cotton swabs and soil from the crime scene were delivered in order to determine the type of explosives that were used in the bombing. Mr. Nohra’s department sent a report of the first two weeks of lab investigations to the Scientific Investigations Department.

The witness Mr. Nohra indicated that in relation to Mr. Ahmad Abu Adass—the person allegedly responsible for the false claim for the attack—the DNA of him or his parents did not match any of the DNA found at the crime scene. Shortly after the 14 February 2005 attack, a video was received by al Jazeera with a letter attached to it, on which Abu Adass claimed to have been the suicide bomber on behalf of a Sunni fundamentalist group.

By presenting this witness’s evidence, the Prosecution laid a foundation for its argument that the video by Abu Adass that he was responsible for the attack contained a false claim.

Witness #11 – PRH-301
This witness also testified through video linkage, and protective measures apply to him. At the beginning of March 2005, this witness was asked to provide technical assistance to a team of Swiss explosives experts, though he is not a forensic expert himself. He assisted them in surveying the crime scene. The crime scene was divided up into sections for the purposes of searching. The witness was asked to accompany them and draft a report, and to take pictures of the crime scene, similar pictures to those that were taken by the Swiss experts, were included in the report. The witness was asked by the Swiss experts to empty the crater of the water inside, which he in turn requested the civil defence to do. The witness further indicates that the experts asked him to dig up the soil in the crater to filter a metal piece that was inside it. On a picture that is shown to the witness, this piece is identified, and the witness describes that it is a car part holding the Mitsubishi sign.

5 February 2014

Witness #12 – PRH-566
Witness PRH-566 testifies again through video link and is also protected by protective measures. In 2005, this witness worked for the ISF where he had an administrative role in the Bureau of Explosives, which was concerned with bomb disposal and investigation after explosions.

This witness, like witness Brigadier-General Soussi, also attended the ISF officers’ meeting at the Beirut military court later in the afternoon of the 14th of February 2005. The experts who attended that meeting brought in two pieces of metal. Those were stored at the Explosives Helou barracks. The military judge asked those present to do whatever necessary regarding the explosion that had occurred on that day.

During his examination-in-chief, this witness is shown a report that he drafted that mentions the items that were collected on 14 February 2005. The witness describes some car parts that were found in the crater on that day. Some of the metal parts were identified as belonging to the fourth vehicle of the motorcade, being a Mercedes 500 type car. Other car parts of the vehicle that had exploded belonged to a Mitsubishi car, supporting the Prosecution’s case that the explosives were carried in a Mitsubishi Canter van. The witness had shown the car parts they found to, inter alia, a Mitsubishi dealer, and the latter confirmed that the parts indeed belonged to a Mitsubishi car.

From 12th March 2005 onward, divers searched the seabed around the St. Georges area, and managed to retrieve more items; they were again Mitsubishi car parts. The Prosecution shows pictures and physical exhibits, including Mitsubishi parts, to the witness, to introduce those pieces of evidence before the judges.

Mr. Larochelle for Oneissi confronts this witness in cross-examination with his telephone number at the relevant time. Counsel asks the witness whether he knew a person called "Jameh Jameh" at the relevant time, which the witness confirms. The witness states that Jameh Jameh had been a public figure in Lebanon at the time. The witness is confronted by counsel that he knew at the time that Jameh Jameh had worked for the Syrian Secret Service, and that the witness had a number of telephone contacts with him between January and March 2005. The witness responds that he does not remember. However, the witness confirms that, after being introduced to Jameh Jameh in January 2005, the subsequent contact they had had been on 15th February 2005. The witness states that the fact that Jameh Jameh called had disturbed him. Many contacts between them took place over the subsequent days. The witness states: "They were the rulers on the ground" and the "de facto rulers". He further testifies that "at that time, such connections were essential in order to protect ourselves, to prevent harm. He was an influential person".

6 February 2014

Continuation of evidence given by Witness PRH-566
The subsequent day, Mr. Edwards for the Badreddine defence continues the cross-examination of this protected witness and takes him through the guidelines applicable to the experts at explosion sites. More in particular, he highlights Regulation 319 on how explosives experts should act in case of an explosion, requiring that items of evidence should be sealed in some way. However, later on there is confusion about the meaning of "sealing" in its Arabic translation. The witness explains that by "sealing" they mean the concluding of a report. The witness confirms that any expert not abiding by the rules is sanctioned. At the same time, he acknowledges that he himself didn't sanction any person because he was very inexperienced at the time.

Mr. Edwards confronts the witness with the fact that at the crime scene, selecting those items from the car "was a difficult process to be undertaken by the experts at that time", which is why they started first investigating the crater. Counsel Edwards calls the initial investigation "a rushed job", but the witness responds that the investigations were conducted by the experts, not by him. It seems that official procedures were overlooked in this instance, because of the magnitude of the explosion and the hurry of the investigations. The witness further admits that "the experts were not properly trained on how to preserve a crime scene", and the witness himself indicates that he, as the head of the explosives bureau, "did not have enough experience in terms of explosives or managing crime scenes".

On 14 February 2005, witness was already informed by experts that it had probably been a car bomb, though they didn’t know the type of vehicle. Witness relied on that preliminary assessment. Also at the meeting with military investigating Judge Rashid Mezher did the witness hear experts say that the explosion was due to a vehicle explosion. Mr. Edwards then asks the witness whether, by assuming this conclusion at such an early stage, the witness may have closed off his mind to other possibilities as to how the explosion may have happened. Witness merely responds to this by saying that he listened to the experts. He does indicate, though, that the engineering regiment of the Lebanese army did have a different understanding, namely that the explosion had taken place underground. But since the experts of witness’s bureau informed the witness that it had taken place above the ground, he followed their expertise. It was after they found one mechanical part that carried the Mitsubishi logo, they started focusing on parts belonging to a Mitsubishi; this accelerated their efforts to concentrate on the Mitsubishi vehicle.

In the report drafted by the witness, he stated that: “There was a state of chaos in the crime scene, not only during the first few hours following the explosion during which much focus is on extinguishing the fire, saving the injured, and looking for the missing, but regrettably and unnecessarily for a much longer time”. He further stated in his report that the security organs present at the crime scene did not coordinate; the witness specified that this was the case only at the beginning of the investigations.

7 February 2014

Witness #13: Malcolm Wilson (PRH-585)
This witness was a serving police officer with the Metropolitan Police in the UK, a detective with the Counter Terrorism Command. He traveled for the first time to Beirut in June of 2005 to establish if it was feasible to search the seabed close to St. Georges area and a pool with stagnant water close to that area. At the conclusion of their trip, Mr. Wilson and his colleague Mr. Gillett, a police sergeant with the Metropolitan Police, drafted a report. At a later stage, they returned to Beirut with a larger contingent. Mr. Wilson explains how the diving took place, how they searched the St. Georges marina seabed, and the items the divers recovered. One of the items they recovered was a vehicle part with a Mitsubishi logo. The witness is shown that part, but now he cannot recognize the Mitsubishi logo anymore, since it is heavily corroded. He also doesn’t remember now where he saw the logo at the time. He only saw it on that day, and then handed the item over to the UN. The witness states his surprise that you can’t see any of it anymore. At that time, no pictures were taken of the item, only at a much later stage.

10 February 2014

Witness #14: Mr. Khalil Al-Arab (PRH-255)
This witness testifies via videolink from Beirut and is examined by counsel for the Prosecution Mr. Raffray. He testifies about his father-in-law Mr. Yahya Al-Arab (aka Abu Tareq), the patron of his family, who had died in the explosion on 14 February 2005. Witness’s father-in-law used to work for Mr. Rafik Hariri; he used to accompany Mr. Hariri everywhere he went, including his travels abroad. He explains the effect the attack on Mr. Hariri and his father-in-law had on him and his family.

Witness #15: Tanios El-Gemayel (PRH-337)
The next witness, also testifying through videolink, Tanios El-Gemayel, is questioned by Mr. Adhihetty from the Prosecution.  In 2005, this witness was a sergeant working with the Central Accidents Bureau in the Scientific Police Division for the Internal Security Forces (ISF). In that position, his work involved the execution of judicial assignments, including investigating crime scenes.

Counsel for the Prosecution examines this witness on four issues: First, he had to collect DNA evidence from the parents of Abu Adass, the person who, according to the Prosecution, falsely claimed responsibility for the attack. The witness took the samples and brought them to the Forensic Lab Bureau. Second, the witness went to the crime scene shortly after 10pm on the day of the attack to film the transfer of the convoy cars from the crime scene to the Helou barracks. He cannot himself confirm these vehicles belonged to the convoy of Mr. Hariri; he was presented with the cars and asked to videotape their removal from the crime scene. Third, he was asked to collect human remains and non-biological items and to take photographs of those, and fourth, he testified on the collection of items salvaged from the sea by the diving team.

Mr. Young from the Sabra defence cross-examines this witness also on behalf of the other defence teams. He takes the witness through some of his video footage, and asks the witness detailed questions about the cars that he filmed. In particular, he is questioned about the removal of car no. 6, which was done by a bulldozer because of the state of the remains of the car.

The Chamber has suspended the proceedings until mid-May, when the Prosecution is expected to continue its case by presenting further witnesses, this time joined by the fifth defendant that was just recently added to the case, Mr. Merhi.

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