BEIRUT: Defense attorneys at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are lambasting the court’s prosecution and the Lebanese government for what they say is a failure to adhere to basic legal and fundamental procedures and provide even minimal cooperation.
In pretrial briefs filed to the STL this week, the attorneys representing the four men accused of taking part in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri say that these obstacles have left them without the means to build a defense, especially since they cannot contact their clients.
“The defense cannot in good conscience explicitly agree to facts in the absence of instructions from [defendant] Mr. [Mustafa] Badreddine,” say attorneys Antoine Korkmaz and John Jones. “Moreover, incomplete disclosure of all incriminating and exculpatory evidence, as well as a total lack of cooperation from the relevant Lebanese authorities have restricted even further the ability of defense counsel to address these matters.”
The four men indicted by the court – Baddredine, Assad Sabra, Hussein Oneissi, and Salim Ayyash – remain at large and will be tried in absentia unless they come forward or are apprehended.
In the briefs the attorneys reject the charges brought against the men and say they intend to challenge the accusations in court.
But the briefs also argue that the prosecution’s pace in turning over key documents and other factors have left the defense without sufficient time to prepare for the trial, tentatively set to begin March 25.
According to Sabra’s lawyers, David Young and Guenel Mettraux, it took the prosecution almost 10 months to disclose material that was required and much of this was handed over in November. “This has left little time for the defense to review all of this material and to conduct any sort of meaningful preparation in regard to much of that material.”
They go on to note that they are still waiting for some documents, a complaint the defense has lodged repeatedly in recent months in meetings with the pretrial judge and the prosecution.
The prosecution filed its pretrial brief in November, in which it outlined its case and said it intends to call over 550 witnesses and present over 13,000 exhibits.
While the prosecution’s case is built on investigations done in tandem with Lebanese authorities, the defense says it has not received support from the government, which, under the U.N. Security Council resolution that established the STL, has a legal duty to cooperate with the court.
“Thus far, Lebanon has not provided a substantial amount of information and material considered to be highly relevant to the preparation of the defense case,” say Sabra’s attorneys. “Absent such cooperation, the defense is effectively unable to conduct meaningful investigations, and cannot generate information relevant to the preparation of its case.”
When the defense attorneys were appointed in March, the court said that they would have the opportunity to conduct their own investigation.
But Sabra’s attorneys say that their correspondence with Lebanese authorities on requests for assistance have left it “unclear whether any effective information-gathering process could safely be undertaken in Lebanon.”
The pretrial briefs from attorneys for Oneissi and Ayyash are currently confidential but redacted versions may be made available to the public later, the court said Friday.