Defense attorneys at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon resumed their efforts to undermine the credibility of a former bodyguard of Sami Issa Monday. Prosecutors contend Issa was an alias of a lead conspirator in the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri .
Iain Edwards, representing the interests of defendant Mustafa Badreddine, confronted the witness with a number of inconsistencies in his testimony, accusing him of fabricating details about Issa and embellishing his statements to investigators.
Prosecutors believe Issa was one of several aliases used by Badreddine, whom they allege was the chief organizer of the 2005 assassination. Badreddine is one of five members of Hezbollah being tried in absentia for the bombing, which killed the former prime minister along with 21 others. The prosecution has attempted to use this witness to bolster their contention that the two men were one and the same.
But the former bodyguard, granted anonymity by the court, has been somewhat shaky on the details of his evidence. Last week, after providing prosecutors with a definite identification of Issa from a photograph allegedly depicting Badreddine, he backed off under cross-examination, and said he couldn’t be sure.
The witness has described a number of eccentric behaviors exhibited by Issa, which seemed to reflect either paranoia or an involvement in something slightly more dangerous than the jewelry business. Issa reportedly traveled with multiple armed bodyguards, swapped between cars and rotated his license plates, and owned and used a number of different cellular phones. He even brought his own nargileh with him to cafes. Perhaps most bizarre, the witness recalled that Issa once asked for a jeweler’s cloth to remove his fingerprints from a cellular phone he had handled in a shop, and used to wipe them from cutlery and glassware in restaurants.
Edwards spent significant time seeking to establish whether Issa had handled the phone with a cloth, or had first picked it up with his bare hands, as the witness had variously told both versions. And after testifying in a sworn statement that the phone-wiping episode was unique, the witness subsequently made the submission regarding the cutlery.
Each time Edwards accused him of fabrication, the witness would clumsily move to clarify the discrepancy. Some of the exchanges were painful. In a week of testimony, the former bodyguard has volunteered little beyond what has been explicitly requested by attorneys and judges. At times it was unclear whether he was being deliberately obtuse.
A more material discrepancy came regarding an identification the witness made of a man he overheard Issa give instructions to over a wireless radio. The witness said he recognized the face of Mohammed Chaker, a senior employee of Issa’s, as he passed in a car with the window partly lowered. Elsewhere he had testified that the man’s face was mostly obscured, that he had seen only a forehead.
It is unclear whether the discrepancies were intentional or even particularly material. Some seemed to be attributable to errors of omission made by the witness in the numerous sworn statements he made to investigators. At times he seemed confused or oblivious to the specific contradiction to which Edwards drew him.
After the former bodyguard concluded his testimony in a closed session, the prosecution began examination of an experienced jeweler who was also employed by Issa.
Prosecutor Graeme Cameron asked about Issa’s acumen as a jeweler and a businessman, his case of course being that Issa was in fact neither of these things. Presumably, he got the answer he expected.
“He didn’t know much about jewelry,” the jeweler volunteered. “He even used to say that he started working in the jewelry business because it’s like having a banking branch or a bank job, because he didn’t have any knowledge of jewelry ... He was the one making the decisions, but he wasn’t really interested in the details.” The witness will resume testimony Tuesday.
Separately, the tribunal was also visited Monday by French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira and French Ambassador Laurent Pic, the STL said in a statement. The officials toured the court and met with staff as part of a delegation from the French Justice Ministry. STL President Judge Ivana Hrdli?kov?, who visited Lebanon in October, voiced her “deep gratitude to Minister of Justice Taubira for France’s continued support.”