The Special Tribunal for Lebanon opened 2016 with evidence from prosecutorial investigator Alasdair Macleod, whose inability or unwillingness to divulge information were the theme of the day’s proceedings.
Having spent nearly a decade working on the case, Macleod has been employed by the tribunal since its inception.
He worked for its predecessor, the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission, from February 2006.
Along with Lebanese authorities, the UNIIIC was responsible for earlier investigation into the February 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Defense counselors have repeatedly questioned the qualifications and experience of a number of investigators who have testified before the court, but Macleod has apparently made a career of such work.
He spent eight years on a specialist research team for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and later did investigatory work for the Paul Volcker Committee, an inquiry commissioned by the U.N. to probe the notoriously corrupt Oil-for-Food Program, established by the U.N. in 1995 to allow Iraq to sell oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine and other humanitarian needs. He also testified Tuesday that he “was involved in investigations” during the five years he worked for the British government, but could not elaborate due to the provisions of the Official Secrets Act.
The Oil-for-Food Program has surfaced before at the STL. During political testimony last year, the court heard about massive sums allegedly laundered through Lebanese banks. But Macleod was unable to shed further light on local dimensions of the scandal, again bound by a confidentiality agreement.
After a brief introduction he was turned over for cross examination to Philippe Larochelle, representing the interests of defendant Hussein Oneissi. Pursuing a line of questioning he has put to other investigators, Larochelle sought to establish what notes and records Macleod had maintained during the dozens of interviews he had conducted for the OTP. Notably, very few of these interviews were recorded, and they were translated before being transcribed into their extant form. Macleod said he did not recall that investigators ever wrote up answers in Arabic.
Macleod said he had no recollection of taking any notes during the interviews, as he was usually the one typing them up. He conceded that there were analytical reports prepared regarding telephone numbers of interest, but that everything else had been incorporated in the questions put to witnesses and available in the contents of their statements.
Larochelle was incredulous that such materials did not exist. Defense counselors have sought to unpack and evaluate the methodology investigators used in their work, and to retrace their various lines of inquiry. But they have clashed with prosecutors over how much of that information can be queried in court, and how much is privileged internal work product.
The information has obvious value to the defense. Four Lebanese generals were arrested in 2005 for their alleged involvement in the crime on the recommendation of German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who led the early stages of the UNIIIC’s investigation, before being released on the orders of the STL in 2009. Investigators would presumably be familiar with a number of the alternate theories that were pursued at various points, including the claim of responsibility made by Ahmad Abu Adass, and charges that an Al-Qaeda cell was involved.
“We should be able to know the significance of that person in the investigation,” Larcochelle said, citing an anonymous individual Macleod had asked a witness about. “That information should not be lost forever ... We should be allowed to know, to propose alternative influence.”
He was supported by Guénaël Mettraux, representing the interests of defendant Assad Hassan Sabra.
“One of the reasons why the witness is in the box is because a prior witness said they couldn’t remember a thing. Now he is saying the same thing,” Mettraux charged, referring to Macleod. “He asked a question about a specific individual. We know why he did, they know why he did. Only you don’t,” he told judges.
Over the objections of the prosecution, the court gave Macleod leave to run a specific inquiry on a prosecutorial database in order to “refresh his memory.”
After the break, Macleod reported that the search had in fact reminded him of certain details. But whatever they were, the court chose to hear them in a private session. The tribunal resumes Wednesday afternoon.