Former Director of General Security Jamil al-Sayyed concluded three days of testimony for the defense Thursday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, pointedly refusing to be cross-examined by Nigel Povoas, counsel for the prosecution. “For personal, emotional and ethical views I cannot be questioned by such a person,” the newly elected MP said in reference to Povoas.
“If there are going to be any questions put forth by any of [the prosecutors], I will leave.”
Sayyed’s resentment toward the STL prosecution was clear throughout his three-day testimony. He attacked the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission Tuesday for its investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, arguing that the work should have been carried out by Lebanon’s security apparatus.
Sayyed has previous bad blood with the UNIIIC and the STL prosecution. After stepping down as the head of General Security in April 2005 following the assassination, Sayyed was arrested by Lebanese authorities alongside four other generals. During the period of the UNIIIC investigations, the five individuals were detained for suspected involvement in the attack.
While no concrete evidence was provided by the investigative team, the five officials were detained for four years. The arbitrary arrests were condemned in a 2007 report from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. In 2009, when the UNIIIC handed over the investigation to the newly opened STL, Sayyed and his colleagues were released and exonerated.
President of the Trial Chamber Judge David Re criticized Sayyed’s unjust detainment by the former investigative team. Still, he informed the witness that he could not reserve the right to pick and choose for whom he wished to testify.
Furthermore, Re added, Sayyed’s anger should not have been directed toward the current prosecution team as it had fully replaced that working under the UNIIIC.
“We understand the emotions are based on your incarceration, and we understand it’s difficult for you to disassociate the ongoing tribunal to what had happened to you. But understand that Povoas had come [to the STL] in 2012 after you were released,” Re said.
“You did mention at some point that you wanted to set the historical record straight, but this is not a truth and reconciliation,” the judge added, emphasizing that the trial was about the assassination of Hariri, not Sayyed’s arbitrary detention.
The point was rendered moot when Povoas stated that he had no questions for the MP, concluding Sayyed’s time at the stand.
With his testimony concluded, the MP spoke to Lebanese TV outlets outside the STL courtroom in the Netherlands, reiterating his issues with the investigation. His testimony, he said, would hopefully reveal the gaps the prosecution had missed.
Thursday’s sessions were the third day of Sayyed’s testimony for the defense, in which he discussed a meeting held by Lebanese figures opposed to the 2004 extension of Syrian government-backed Emile Lahoud’s presidency. Referred to as the “Bristol Group,” several opposition parties and movements including Progressive Socialist Party head Walid Joumblatt and former MP Boutros Harb gathered at Beirut’s Bristol Hotel in December 2004 to discuss an end to the Syrian occupation and the implementation of U.N. Resolution 1559, which called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops.
“Walid Joumblatt was a main figure of that group and of course, he was one of Hariri’s friends,” Sayyed said. “I never heard at any point that Hariri met with [the Bristol Group] or intended to be a member of that group. In the end, it was just a phase when that group was established where Hariri was prime minister of the country.”
The former prime minister’s relationship with Syria has been a key point of contention throughout the trial. According to many leaders, including Joumblatt, the relationship between the Lebanese prime minister and Syrian President Bashar Assad had grown increasingly strained and even violent in the months leading up to Hariri’s assassination.
The STL prosecution has sought to tie both Syria and its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, to the assassination.
Sayyed, however, has steadfastly rejected allegations of a souring relationship between Hariri and the Syrian leadership. During Wednesday’s hearing, the MP said that Hariri “had always been disposed to work with Syria.” Sayyed has maintained that Israel and the United States were the principal orchestrators of the assassination.