A representative from the Alfa network concluded lengthy and hotly contested testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday, with defense counselors adamantly contending that some of the evidence should be disallowed.
The witness has testified for more than a week about company protocols and records that Alfa turned over to tribunal investigators. The prosecution believes it has been able to identify the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri through the analysis of cellphone records. Alfa is one of only two GSM networks operating in Lebanon.
The provenance and accuracy of this data, and its vulnerability to manipulation, are at the heart of the case. Analysts and cellular experts who have testified before the court have all relied on it for their evaluation and reports.
The witness testified that Alfa keeps track of when phone lines are recharged and from which dealer credit was purchased. When considered in conjunction with cell siting data, the prosecution said such information allowed them to track the conspirators’ movements.
“The evidence is capable of supporting that the users and managers of the blue network operated in south Beirut,” prosecution attorney Fabia Wong asserted. Investigators have assigned different colors to the groups of phones they contend were used to plan the massive car bombing on Valentine’s Day 2005. Phones in the blue group were allegedly used to monitor Hariri’s movements in the weeks before the attack.
Wong also drew attention to the large amounts of unused money left on the phones when they were deactivated following the assassination. “The available credit on date of deactivation was disproportionate to number of calls possible,” she told the court.
The witness testified that several other sets of documents presented by prosecutors had been part of company records, including IMEI numbers, used to identify handsets, and bar codes of specific Alfa SIM cards. A number of these records were accepted into evidence without protest.
But other testimony drew strong objections from defense attorneys, who contend that the witness cannot vouch for the accuracy of information generated outside normal business records. Particularly at issue have been cellular coverage maps that were produced for investigators using an amalgamation of data to replicate conditions as they existed in 2004-05. The witness appeared uncertain of a number of details about the maps’ creation, and the defense objected to their being admitted as evidence.
“The witness can’t speak to its reliability ... it was produced for litigation by someone. [We] don’t know how it was done or how reliably it was done,” said defense counselor Eugene O’Sullivan.
Wong asked that the witness be allowed to consult with his team at Alfa to clarify specifics of the company’s systems or refresh his memory on certain aspects of the data. The request drew strong objections from each of the defense teams.
“The witness has been interviewed 17 times by my count. Over a period of 20 hours,” said O’Sullivan, noting that investigators, prosecutors, Alfa lawyers, and other employees were present. “Nothing precluded the prosecution discussing these issues with the witness during the interviews. ... Our objection is that this is inadmissible hearsay.”
Wong countered that it was unreasonable to expect someone to have first-hand knowledge of every aspect of a company’s inner workings over such a long period. The court will receive submissions from both parties before rendering their decision.
The tribunal will resume next week for opening of the trial of Al-Akhbar Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim al-Amin and his paper’s parent company, each of whom have been charged with one count of contempt and one count of obstruction of justice. In January 2013, Al-Akbar published names, photographs and workplaces of individuals they alleged were from a leaked list of confidential witnesses.
Amin defended the decision to publish in an editorial.
“The requisites of justice have not been genuinely upheld, and Al-Akhbar cannot be neutral toward something that continues to be used as a pretext to sow divisions between the Lebanese, cause domestic clashes, or discredit the Resistance,” he wrote, in reference to the STL.
In a brief appearance by video link at a pretrial hearing, Amin made clear that he does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court, and said he would exercise his right to remain silent. He has since refused to appear or otherwise cooperate with the proceedings.
Over his stated objection, the court has appointed counsel for him – Beirut Bar Association member Antonios Abou Kasm. Kasm is presumably very familiar with the tribunal – he wrote his doctoral thesis on the court and authored the legal text “The Special Tribunal for Lebanon – Legal challenges and strategic issues” (2 Volumes – in French).
The trial opens Wednesday.