Jul 30, 2014

Expert witness Geyer about identification of vehicle parts

On 16 and 17 July 2014, Prosecution witness Gerhard Geyer came to testify about the identification of Mitsubishi vehicle parts. Mr Geyer has worked for Mitsubishi Motors Germany since 1990. He was asked to investigate the vehicle parts in Beirut, where he traveled to in 2005 and subsequently drafted a report.

First, the Trial Chamber had to decide whether this witness would testify as an expert witness or as a witness-of-fact. The defence for Badreddine, Mr Iain Edwards, called into question this witness's expertise, but the judges decided nonetheless that Mr Geyer qualified as an expert witness under Rule 161 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, in that he had some form of specialised knowledge, experience or training.

[screenshot of Mr Geyer at the STL]

In his testimony, and whilst being confronted with several exhibits consisting of car parts, Mr Geyer identified fragments of the vehicle that may have carried the bomb to the place of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Those parts were likely to have belonged to a Mitsubishi Canter van, according to Mr Geyer.

Mr Geyer was shown from the CCTV in the tunnel in Beirut through which the van had allegedly traveled in the direction of the location of the assassination (see here for an earlier overview of expert witness Robyn Fraser on the CCTV footage of the lorry through the tunnel). He indicated that it was not possible for him to confirm that the lorry that traveled through the tunnel was indeed a Mitsubishi Canter van.

The testimony of Mr Geyer forms an important aspect of the Prosecution case in tying together the vehicle that they allege carried the bomb to the assassination. The Prosecution alleges that the defendant Ayyash was involved in the purchase of the Mitsubishi Canter van in Tripoli (see article in the Daily Star).

Jul 28, 2014

Last witness before the STL summer recess: Mr Mohammed Kheireddine (22 and 23 July 2014)

The Prosecution started with a summary of the statement given by Mr Kheireddine, who is a police officer within the Internal Security Forces (ISF) of Lebanon:

“At the time [of the attack], his job was to attend at crime scenes and to take finger-prints, biological evidence, and pictures. On 14 February 2005, Mr. Kheireddine was working inside his office at the Helou barracks when he heard an explosion. He and his team were ordered to attend the crime scene at the St. Georges area. His team took pictures, a video, and notes of what they observed at the crime scene. Mr. Kheireddine and his team also went to the hospitals to take pictures of the deceased victims and to obtain finger-prints of the deceased when possible. Approximately a week later, Mr. Kheireddine was called to the crime scene to take pictures and to obtain a sample of a partial hand that was recovered from under the rubble. Mr. Kheireddine also took pictures of the crater and objects found in it. Further, he went to Helou barracks to take pictures of car parts and other plastic and metal parts. A month after the explosion, Mr. Kheireddine and explosives technicians went to the St. Georges Beach Club to inspect if any evidence remained, but they did not find anything.”

[screenshot of Mr Kheireddine appearing by video-link before the STL]

Further, Mr Kheireddine together with his ISF colleagues drafted a report on the forensic examination and technical inspections carried out by them on the day of the attack. This report contains observations and photographs of the crime scene (including bodies, the crater, and damaged vehicles), the morgue at the hospital and metal parts collected from the crime scene by the explosive experts. There is also a video taken by a member of Mr Kheireddine’s team on 14 February 2005 at the crime scene, and another report written by him and a colleague on 1 March 2005 about their attendance at the crime scene in order to take samples and photographs of the remains of a human palm that had been found buried under some wreckage.

After this short examination-in-chief, Mr Andreas O'Shea for the Merhi Defence started cross-examining the witness by asking some questions about the witness’ experience and training within the police. Mr Kheireddine explained that this was the first explosion crime scene he visited, that he was leading a team of three, with one taking the video, and the other two taking photographs and notes. The original notes were destroyed, as everything was included in the final report; this was their standard practice.

Mr O’Shea also questioned the witness about the content of the photographs and the video taken at the crime scene, showing among others firemen, severely damaged buildings, the crater filled with water, and people in and around the crater. However, this line of questioning did not seem to result in anything other than what the images already show, that is the limited securing of the crime scene (with only parts of the crime scene marked by tape, at least shortly after the attack), the presence of many people at the crime scene, and experts collecting items from the crime scene without special gloves. Also, a bulldozer was used to remove bodies from the crime scene, and, according to the witness, nowadays a bulldozer would not be used to remove a dead body while the inspection at the crime scene is still ongoing. The witness further confirmed that a very large crime scene should have been divided into zones, and should have a coordination tent where different services can meet and coordinate their efforts, but both measures were not taken at that time.

During the cross-examination of Mr Edwards for the Defence for Mr Badreddine, it was further clarified that after the investigations into the explosion of 2005, 'lessons have been learned' by the Lebanese authorities. Since then the police have been further trained and improved procedures have been implemented for the investigation of a crime scene after such a large explosion.

Jul 17, 2014

Second week of July: Forensic expert analysis of crater

The first witness of this week to give evidence for the Prosecution was Bart Hoogeboom, an expert in image analysis (photogrammetry) from the Dutch Forensic Institute. This expert witness analysed photographs of the crater and its surrounding in order to determine the size of the crater. His results have been put in an expert report tendered by the Prosecution.

[Screenshot of witness Bart Hoogeboom]

Hoogeboom made a selection out of photographs originating from the press, and this resulted in three distinctive sets of photos to be used for his research: one set of photos of the crater taken shortly after the explosion and two sets of photos taken four days after the explosion, totalling 13 photos. Further, he had at his disposal data resulting from a laser scan done by the Dutch police in 2010 at the site of the bombing, providing a 3D representation of the surroundings of the crater (the crater itself had already been closed at that time).

After expert Hoogeboom had made a photo selection, he extracted 3D information from these photos in order to determine the dimensions of the crater. With the first set of photos he was able to identify a number of points in the crater. He combined this information with the other two sets of photos, showing views of the buildings together with the crater, in order to obtain a scale. With the use of special software he calculated the position of the cameras that had been used to take the photos, which was needed to determine the true location of certain points. He subsequently combined the 3D information obtained from the photos - by using corresponding points between the sets of photos – and the data from the laser scan.

[screenshot of a page of Hoogeboom’s report showing corresponding points between photos]

This  technical exercise led to the determination of a numbers of points near the edge of the crater. The actual measurement of the crater was done by fitting a mathematical shape, a partial cone, in the crater. On the basis of this conical shape, the dimensions of the crater could be calculated: 11.4m for the diameter for the top circle of the crater, a 8.3m diameter for the lowest circle, and a height of 1.9m (although the witness admitted that there were definitely lower points in the crater). Of course, there is also a margin of appreciation in this measurement because of the difficult shape of the crater, but the witness stated that the margin of error is expected to be less than a few percent.

The evidence given by this witness was thus of a very technical (and mathematical) nature and seems uncontested by the Defence, as the witness was not cross-examined by any of the teams.

Jul 3, 2014

First week of July: experts in human identification and DNA analysis

This week the first witness was Professor Fouad Ayoub, an expert in human identification. Professor Ayoub explained his role in the collection of remains from the crime scene after the bombing of 14 February 2005 that killed Hariri, and the analysis of the results after DNA testing had been done at two laboratories in Beirut. This resulted in the identification of deceased victims of the bombing.

[screenshot Prosecution witness Professor Ayoub]

Professor Ayoub became involved in the investigation of the Hariri bombing, because many of the bodies that were brought to the hospitals were seriously damaged by the blast, and the identification had to be done through dental records comparison; this was also done with the body of Hariri.

The witness was further involved in the inspection of the crime scene, especially in relation to the need for further investigations on potential suicide bomber Abu Adass, whose video claiming responsibility had been spread through the media. The witness and his students collected very small body parts from the crime scene, which were numbered and marked on a map. This resulted in a report on the DNA results of these samples, including the remains of the person who was closest to the bomb, and who has never been identified (the unknown man). Judge Lettieri questioned the witness about why those would be the remains of the person closest to the centre of the explosion. The witness explained that this can be deducted from the size of the remains, which were much smaller than the remains from other persons (including two persons who were part of the convoy, and thus very close to the explosion as well). Also the remains of the unknown man were found relatively far from the explosion but scattered in the same direction. 

It is the Prosecution’s case that Abu Adass, the person who claimed the responsibility of the attack through a video message, was in fact not involved in the bombing. The witness has compared the known DNA from the crime scene with the DNA of Abu Adass (taken from samples of his tooth brush), and the DNA of the mother and two sisters of Abu Adass. He concluded that no remains recovered at the crime scene belonged to any member of the Abu Adass family.

During cross-examination, some of the difficulties with collecting and analysing remains from the crime scene were discussed. For example, rain or water used by fire-fighters could have (re)moved remains, or could have caused mixture of remains with soil or mud. Because of that, for some of the samples no or only a partial DNA profile could be extracted. Also, the bulldozers and lorries that were used to remove vehicles from the crime scene, could have displaced or removed remains. Defence counsel for Badreddine, Mr. Edwards, showed Professor Ayoub various remains and bones collected by the Spanish team in 2005-2005 for which none or only a partial DNA was extracted, including one item that could not be matched with the genetic profiles from the deceased victims (originating from first floor of St George, see area 1I in below photograph). Witness thinks this originates from an injured person, and not a deceased person, though.

[screenshot of St. George Hotel shown by Defence to Professor Ayoub]

As to the Defence's suggestion that the remains of the suicide bomber might have not been found, the witness thinks it is very unlikely that the remains of an entire person were removed. In the course of his work, Professor Ayoub has dealt with over 25 suicide bombings in Lebanon, and the body of the suicide bomber is destroyed but remains have always been found. The remains of a person closer to the explosion than the unknown man could be even more fragmented, smaller and fewer, and the witness thus cannot exclude that unidentified remains could be from a person even closer to explosion.

The second, and last, Prosecution witness called to the stand this week was Dr. Issam Mansour, also a DNA specialist, testifying with regard to the DNA profile analysis of victims and potential suspects. 

[screenshot of Prosecution witness Dr. Issam Mansour]

In his testimony, Dr. Mansour explained how the DNA testing and matching works. Importantly, he indicated that DNA matching is mostly used for exclusion: if there is a non-match, we can exclude the possibility that it is that person's DNA; this is certain. However, if there is a match, it is only a matter of probabilities. If there is a complete match, Dr. Mansour indicated that the probability is one in 10 billion individuals, unless we're talking about siblings. A DNA profile is identical for a unique person; only identical twins normally have identical DNA profiles. 

This witness received the DNA samples from Professor Ayoub. This witness simply received the items to be identified and matched, and conducted his research on those, and filed several reports with his conclusions, that are exhibited to the proceedings. With regard to several of the items, the witness was unable to extract a DNA profile because there was not enough DNA on the items, such as toothbrushes. In those cases they were unable to identify the DNA profile.

The hearing was adjourned after this witness was cross-examined by defence for Mr. Badreddine and Mr. Merhi until Tuesday 15th July. The Chamber adjourned the hearings for a week so as to allow the Merhi defence more time to prepare its case.