STL Defense Strategy: Target the Foundations of the Case

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A bronze statue of slain prime minister Rafiq Hariri overlooks the site where he was killed in a massive blast in downtown Beirut on 30 June 2011 (Photo: Joseph Eid)

By: Omar Nashabe

Published Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lawyers defending one of the accused in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon say that the case against their client is full of holes that they plan to expose during the trial. Al-Akhbar takes a sneak peek at their strategy.

The prosecution in the international tribunal looking into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri indirectly implicates Hezbollah in their case.

However, pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen did not agree with the paragraph in which the Lebanese Shia party was mentioned, according to defense attorneys David Young and Guénaël Mettraux, who were appointed to defend Assad Sabra, one of the accused.

So when Norman Farrell replaced Daniel Bellemare to lead the prosecution, mention of Hezbollah was removed from the revised indictment.

But this change appeared to be only cosmetic after Farrell noted in his pre-trial memorandum to Judge Fransen that the accused were “supporters” of Hezbollah, even mentioning the party’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah in the document.

Young and Mettraux contend that such connections in the case “are not clear,” especially given that the prosecutor confirmed in another document the he does not accuse Hezbollah of being involved, nor does he plan to include Nasrallah in any way.

The two lawyers requested clarification on this issue, asking whether the prosecutor intended to make Hezbollah part of the indictment, in which case he must produce evidence to confirm such allegations.

It is important to note here several factors that negatively impact Young and Mettraux’s work in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

1) The accused will be tried in absentia and there are no lines of communication between the appointed lawyers and their clients that would allow them to discuss critical details of the case and determine the most effective defense strategy.

Therefore, the defense’s primary role will be limited to raising questions about any accusations that are not backed by the kind of evidence that can stand up in a court of law.

2) The prosecutor’s office submitted some of the information supporting their case – in particular those related to witness statements – over nine months late. The defense only managed to get access to this critical information last November, while the tribunal is set to begin within three months.

3) The Lebanese government has not been fully cooperative with the defense, undermining the attorneys’ ability to collect the information necessary to make a strong case.

4) Young and Mettraux have yet to receive information requested from other countries and the UN.

Questioning the Foundations

Young and Mettraux will likely begin their defense by questioning the accuracy of basic information about their client, Assad Sabra – such as where he lives. There is no proof, for example, that the Beirut address that appears in the indictment does in fact belong to Sabra.

The two attorneys will also challenge the color-coded telephone networks that the prosecution claims were used by the accused to coordinate the execution of their plan. Such information remains at the level of allegations without any legally admissible evidence to back it up.

No Sign of Conspiracy

The STL indictment says that the four Lebanese accused of assassinating Hariri engaged in a criminal “conspiracy,” starting on 11 November 2004 and ending on 16 January 2005. But according to the defense, these dates are vague at best, with no evidence confirming them.

The indictment also claims that Sabra, Hussein Oneissi, and an unnamed third person became part of the conspiracy in December 2004 and January 2005 without explaining the reasons for their involvement.

At one point, the prosecution states that “other persons whose identity is unknown” engaged in the conspiracy and were involved in carrying out the assassination. Here, the defense attorneys ask: Who are these “other persons”? Does the prosecution know who they are? If the answer to the latter question is yes, then their identities must be revealed to the defense.

Given that the prosecution has not handed over their names, it means that they do not know who they are, suggesting that there is no evidence that Sabra knows them or has any idea about their presence.

The prosecution argues that the criminal conspiracy was carried out on 14 February 2005, and its goal “which all the conspirators agreed to” was to ignite a large amount of explosives in a public place to assassinate Hariri.

But how did the “conspirators” arrive at such an agreement, and when and where? And what is the evidence provided to establish that this did in fact happen?

Sabra is accused of being part of the operation that recruited and then falsely implicated “Abu Adas” in the assassination, without explaining how that happened and by what means.

Therefore the defense questions the validity of such allegations, rejecting the involvement of Oneissi in the matter, including any relationship that ties him to Sabra.

The prosecution also claims that Oneissi called Abu Adas’ home three times over the course of two days in January 2005, but this allegation is not mentioned in the indictment and therefore cannot be part of the prosecution’s case.

Finally, the indictment notes that in the 75 minutes following the assassination, Sabra and Oneissi made four calls to the offices of Reuters and al-Jazeera using public payphones.

But the prosecution has refused to confirm that Sabra and Oneissi were in fact the ones who made the calls and does not provide any evidence to that effect.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

hillarious...i forgot that this thing exists at all

and so did every politician in lebanon

and the one outside lebanon
the one who is the son of the victim
the one who should be interested.

but where is here..ah yes in saudi arabia...or in paris? who cares anyway...

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