Sep 19, 2014

Explosive Experts of the Lebanese Police: Mr. Walid Othman, Mr. Mahmoud Khashab, and Mr. Husein Krayem

On 2, 3 and 4 September, Mr. Walid Othman testified for the Prosecution. Mr Othman is an explosive expert within the Explosives Bureau of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) of Lebanon, and since 1986 he has been involved in defusing or dismantling bombs, and visiting crime scenes after an explosion took place. Explosions occured on a daily basis in Lebanon.

On 14 February 2005, within half an hour after the explosion, Mr. Othman and his colleagues were at the crime scene. There was chaos, there were people and mechanical parts spread all over the place. The witness and the three other members of his team went into the crater, which was still hot, and found several pieces belonging to the vehicle in which the bomb had been placed. Various photographs confirm their presence in the crater. As soon as the witness looked at the damages, the crater and the crime scene itself, he thought that this was a car bomb that had exploded; this was based on his previous experience. The pieces of the vehicle were placed in bags and no photographs were taken of the pieces at that time; these pieces were taken to their office. They also took the measurements of the crater.

In the following days the witness and his colleagues collected more car parts at the crime scene, both from inside and outside the crater. The witness and his colleagues did not wear any special clothing or gloves, as they did not have the means and tools to deal with the crime scene as they currently have. They were mostly concerned with preserving the pieces as water started leaking into the crater. They drafted reports of their activities, which included photographs. These reports were sent to the military judge and also included a description of the destruction of buildings and the damage to cars of the convoy of Hariri. Various car parts were shown to mechanical experts at automobile companies and were identified as parts of Mercedes, Audi, Volkswagen and Mitsubishi vehicles. The parts from the crime scene were compared with original car parts. There was also one part that actually contained a Mitsubishi logo. Later on, upon request of international experts, Mr. Othman and his colleagues took four Mitsubishi car parts back to the crime scene. This was in order for the international experts to see the location where those pieces were found.

The following two witnesses, Mr. Mahmoud Khashab and Mr. Husein Krayem are colleagues of Mr. Othman, forming part of the same ISF team that investigated the crime scene. Further, the statement of the fourth member of the team, Mr. Joseph Safi, has been tendered pursuant to Rule 155. These testimonies are very similar in nature, even to the point that one wonders why the Prosecution decided to introduce the evidence of all of them, instead of selecting one or two team members to give evidence.

Mr. Mahmoud Khasab, testifying on 8 and 9 September, has been working as an explosive expert with the ISF since 1984. He gave evidence that after the inspection of the crime scene on 14 February 2005 they went to the military court to inform the government commissioner about the results of their inspection of the crime scene, and they showed him the metallic parts they had located. They received a rogatory letter from the investigative judge on the basis of which further inspections of the crime scene were held. Mr. Khasab further talked about the returning of car parts to the crime scene at the request of UNIIIC. According to Mr. Khasab, they relied on their memories in order to put back the parts at the crime scene (two days after the explosion however, they had already drawn a map with an indication of where the parts were found).

[screenshot of Prosecution witness Mahmoud Khasab]

In cross-examination, Mr. Khasab stated that, given that the convoy of Mr. Hariri was equipped with high-definition jammers, it would have been very difficult to detonate the explosives by remote control. The type of explosives used are classified as military. Like his colleagues, Mr. Khasab excludes the possibility that the explosion occurred underground. The witness further confirmed that he and his colleagues were the first to enter the crater, although there were already a lot of military and fire men present when they arrived. He further confirmed the primitive work methods at that time and the lack of tools to inspect or test the car parts they had found at the crime scene.  Mr. Hussein Krayem, who testified on 9 and 10 September, further clarified that the removal of evidence from the crime scene was not in accordance with their instructions; before 14 February 2005 applicable instruction 151 was never followed.

[screenshot of Prosecution witness Hussein Krayem]

These three witnesses provided the defence with the opportunity to highlight the (small) contradictions between their evidence, for example about the amount of car parts found in the crater, the amount of car parts that were returned to the crime scene (and also how often and when they were returned), and which team members participated in the meeting with the commissioner on the day of the explosion.

Sep 12, 2014

Defence lawyer's call for help rejected by Contempt Judge - STL status conference of 12 September

Judge Lettieri, the Contempt Judge, called the status conference today in the case against Al Akhbar Beirut SAL and Mr Al Amin. Present are, inter alia, Kenneth Scott, amicus curiae prosecutor participates in the hearing through video link and lead counsel for the defendants, Mr. Antonios Abou Kasm.

[screenshot of Mr. Kenneth Scott, amicus curiae prosecutor]

1. Absence of the accused

Judge Lettieri started off by indicating that initially, Mr. Al Amin, wished to represent himself as well as his co-defendant, the media company Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. However, given the behaviour of Mr. Al Amin, Contempt Judge Lettieri decided to request the Defence Office to appoint counsel to Mr. Al Amin and Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. The accused was not present today to participate in the proceedings. The Contempt Judge indicated that the accused continues to have the right to address the Judge on the matter of his representation, but he has to be present in the courtroom to do so.

2. Preliminary matter raised by the defence

Counsel for the accused Mr. Kasm, speaking in Arabic and at times French, indicated that he would have preferred the amicus prosecutor to participate today in the courtroom, instead of through video link from the US. It was the amicus curiae who proposed the date for this conference, after all.  Judge Lettieri responds that for a status conference, this is not necessary, but this is envisaged in the Rules.

[screenshot of counsel for the accused Mr. Abou Kasm]

3. Case management

The amicus prosecutor has submitted a proposal for a timeline for the pre-trial phase. Mr Kasm responds that the defence must be given sufficient time for the preparation of the trial, including the filing of its pre-trial brief. He stressed that at the international level, it is the first time counsel is assigned against the accused's will in a contempt case. In all other cases where counsel have been assigned, the accused had been prosecuted for horrendous international crimes.

The Judge will give his decision on the timelines after he will have given his decision on jurisdiction.

4. Request by counsel for the defence rejected by the Contempt Judge

At the end of the hearing, counsel for the accused Mr Kasm called on the Judge for assistance. He is, understandably, in a very difficult position, given that he is imposed on the accused, and the accused do not want to have counsel representing them. Mr Kasm states: "I do all I can to fulfill my professional responsibilities, but I would like to call on you".

In a previous ruling, the Contempt Judge imposed the duty on defence counsel for the accused to disclose the evidence to the latter, while stressing at the same time "that counsel is reminded of their obligation to protect the confidentiality of the evidence and the proceedings".

In quite an emotive statement, counsel Kasm says that he is not there simply to serve the accused persons with documents only. He asks that the responsibility of disclosure to the accused be not only put on his shoulders, but also on the prosecutor and the Registrar, adding that the current proceedings are coming quite close to an in absentia trial. He adds that there is a risk that counsel, who bears the sole responsibility of sharing evidence with the accused, is then faced with a non-cooperative accused publicising such information illegally.

The Contempt Judge chose not to address the question, and simply responded: "You have chosen to be a lawyer, and you have accepted that responsibility!", thereby leaving counsel for the defence in a very difficult position. A position that he has knowingly taken upon himself, but nonetheless a very difficult situation that any lawyer in his situation would have problems with.