Jul 29, 2016

Continued Cross-Examination of Prosecution investigator Alasdair Macleod

The Trial Chamber continued to hear the testimony of Alasdair Macleod, a former investigator for the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC). The witness’s testimony was interrupted by the death of former accused Mustafa Badreddine, but recommenced on 13 July 2016. The cross-examination by counsel for Assad Sabra, Mr. Mettraux, and the re-examination by Mr. Milne for the Prosecution, spanned the course of seven days. Mr. Macleod was tasked with the investigation of the disappearance of Ahmad Abu Adass, the person who claimed responsibility for the bomb attack through a video message. Consequently, Mr. Mettraux’s examination concentrated on exposing flaws and alternate theories with respect to this investigation. The proceedings were often difficult to follow due to the use of private sessions, as well as the scope of the Defense’s line of questioning. For further information on the witness, consult our blog post on his previous testimony.

Mr. Mettraux’s cross-examination largely consisted of putting documents to Mr. Macleod and asking him to acknowledge their contents or clarify their relevance to aspects of the Abu Adass investigation. The Sabra Defense insisted that it did not seek to rely on the veracity of most of these documents, but rather their mere existence (the difference was disputed by the Prosecution). There were few instances in which Mr. Macleod was in a position to respond in detail to Mr. Mettraux’s questions, if he could confirm any relevant details at all. The witness often maintained that he was not involved with the aspects of the case to which the Defense referred.

The Defense began its cross-examination by inquiring as to whether Mr. Macleod had any knowledge of a “story” relating to a person named “Mohammed” being “rewashed, reorganized, and reshaped to explain the departure of Mr. Abu Adass (...)”. Mr. Mettraux pointed to various witness statements that suggest that the story of an orphaned Christian convert to Sunni Islam emerged first in September 2004 and again in January 2005 when the UNIIIC adopted it. The original story is attributed to statements made by Taha Kanawati, an acquaintance of Abu Adass, which could potentially be corroborated by a neighbor of Abu Adass. The Sabra Defense presented a considerable number of UNIIIC witness statements to Mr. Macleod in order to inquire as to the relationships between Abu Adass, Hussam Mohsen, and Khaled Taha. The documents presented to Mr. Macleod suggested that Mohsen and Taha were tied by their fundamentalist views, thus implying that Abu Adass harbored these beliefs by extension.

Mr. Mettraux referred to the testimony of Mohammed Al-Bishti before a Lebanese investigative judge in which Bishti recounted the story of a grocer named Ahmad Freijeh. Freijeh allegedly witnessed the suspicious behavior of two individuals occupying a neighboring home. One, he said, was named Mohammed. According to his testimony before the investigative judge, Bishti recalled that Mohsen had told him that a man named Mohammed had taken Abu Adass to an unknown location immediately before his disappearance. It was alleged that the Lebanese authorities were able to track down this “Mohammed,” but Mr. Macleod had no knowledge of this. The Defense later put documents to witness that suggested that this Mohammed’s real name was Ibrahim Sbaneck, an individual who was under investigation by Lebanese authorities. Mr. Macleod had no recollection of this.

Counsel for Sabra further inquired into the movements of Khaled Taha around the date of the Hariri assassination. He referred to a UNIIIC report that put forward that Taha had returned to Lebanon from Syria the day before Abu Adass’s disappearance and left for Syria the day after. To the witness’s knowledge, UNIIIC investigated a possible connection but could not find one and that UNIIIC had eliminated the possibility that Taha had picked up Abu Adass (but could not recall how this determination was reached). The Defense then asked Mr. Macleod about his meetings with Syrian officials. Mr. Mettraux asked the witness whether these officials had labeled Taha as a “jihadist” with links to Al-Qaeda. Mr. Macleod responded that as far as he could recall, Taha was “involved in efforts to support the insurrection or the organizations in Iraq that were fighting the Americans.”

After Mr. Macleod clarified that he stopped working on the Abu Adass investigation in late 2007 or early 2008, counsel for Sabra further inquired into Abu Adass and Taha’s possible affiliations with Al-Qaeda. One UNIIIC witness thought that the two may have carried out minor logistical functions within the organization while another suspected that Taha was involved with transporting fighters across the border to Syria. Mr. Macleod did not recall being provided this information and did not agree with the Defense’s characterization of Abu Adass’s increased religiosity as “radicalization.”

Another witness statement indicated that Abu Adass had said that he was leaving with Taha on the date of his disappearance and that Taha later called the Abu Adass household to mislead the family as to his whereabouts. Mr. Macleod had limited knowledge of this. The Defense also asked about any investigation into Bilal Zaaroura, a close associate of Taha’s who was known to use the public phone that called the Abu Adass household, but the witness could not recall the details of this aspect.

Of the many overlapping characteristics of Taha and “Mohammed’s” respective stories that were presented by the Defense, Mr. Macleod could only acknowledge that they shared a dislike of mobile phones, that they attended the Arab University mosque during separate time periods, and that Mohammed did call the Abu Adass home on 15 January while Taha may have made a call on the same date.

The Sabra Defense’s cross-examination was structured around four points. First, Mr. Mettraux questioned Mr. Macleod about the movements of Khaled Taha’s family. According to a UNIIIC investigation, Khaled Taha’s mother left Lebanon with a son (not Khaled) and crossed into Syria on the day of the Hariri assassination. The witness had no knowledge of this and did not know of any investigation into this matter. The second point focused on the possibility that Taha’s movements into Syria were illegally facilitated.

The third area of the Defense’s cross-examination touched upon the selecting of Abu Adass for the video in which he claimed responsibility for the Hariri assassination. Mr. Mettraux presented an investigator’s note from the Prosecution that claims that the Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) was monitoring the Hariri convoy in late 2002 or early 2003 through “Palestinian jihadists.” Though the witness had no knowledge of this information, he could confirm that both Abu Adass and Taha are Palestinians. After presenting more statements that suggested Syrian involvement, the Defense asked whether the witness was aware of an apparent “modus operandi of the SMI to use Palestinian jihadists to carry out jobs for them.” Again, Mr. Macleod was not aware of this information.

Additionally, Mr. Mettraux presented various witness statements that suggested Abu Adass and his family could have been targeted by the Al-Ahbash organization due to their religious disagreements. The Defense further speculated that an enmity may have developed after a cousin of Abu Adass was associated with the assassination of Al-Ahbash’s former leader. Mr. Mettraux further suggested that a fax sent by the organization to the Lebanese authorities laying blame for the Hariri assassination demonstrated intent to assign blame on Abu Adass. With the help of Khaled Taha, the Defense proposed that Al-Ahbash selected Abu Adass for the post-assassination video, that Taha lured him into the operation under false pretenses, and that Al-Ahbash attempted to point the finger at Abu Adass. While the witness was aware of certain aspects of this claim, he could not recall any investigation into this claim (which he viewed with skepticism).
Mr. Mettraux’s final line of questioning from the previous session involved the Defense’s theory that the failed plot to bomb the Italian embassy in Beirut was in fact the first attempt on former Prime Minister Hariri’s life. According to the Defense, the truck bomb that was to be used in the embassy bore similarities to the one used in the Hariri killing. Furthermore, the Italian embassy may have been on the path to Parliament that Hariri’s convoy would have taken. The Defense presented possible connections between Abu Adass and those involved with the plot, but the witness was not aware of any connection between the embassy plot and Hariri’s assassination.

Counsel for Sabra also pointed to documents that the evidence that allowed the Prosecution to tie certain phone numbers to the accused in the Ayyash case originated from the SMI. Mr. Macleod admitted that he never saw the software that was supposedly used to obtain this information, and that he could not confirm its existence. The Mr. Macleod acknowledged that he was told that the paperwork surrounding this “breakthrough” was “destroyed,” and that the provenance of these attributed phone records could not be explained at the time.

Counsel for Oneissi cross-examined this witness in private session.

The Prosecution spent half of the day re-examining Mr. Macleod in order to clarify various points. Mr. Macleod testified that he considered many statements upon which the Defense relied to be hearsay, including those which alluded to two calls to the Abu Adass household. He further characterized the two “stories” referenced by the Defense as a “mistaken conflation” of two accounts rather than a “shocking and sudden revelation of something previously hidden.”

The witness testified that although UNIIIC considered the possibility of Taha’s involvement in the Hariri assassination, no evidence was found to support the theory. In one interview conducted by Mr. Macleod, an acquaintance of Taha’s said that he seemed “surprised” and “upset” by Abu Adass’s disappearance, even showing tears in his eyes. Another witness had told Mr. Macleod that Taha was “gobsmacked” by his disappearance and that Taha had never recommended Abu Adass for operations of the “committee” (which refers to a group of militants). Taha himself was described as “bewildered” by the purpose of targeting Prime Minister Hariri. The Prosecution thus suggested that neither Ahmad Abu Adass nor Khaled Taha were likely to have taken part in the assassination.

Other Matters
On 15 June 2016, before Mr. Macleod took the stand, the Prosecution sought to formally admit evidence that the Trial Chamber had previously ruled admissible. These include subscriber notes from Alfa. The prosecution submitted various annexes, including 86 total pieces of evidence, relating to the details of the accused. These notes include the subscriber name, phone number, activation date, switch-off date, and call time. The Prosecution intends to use this information, in conjunction with civil records, to attribute phone numbers to the accused.

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