Controversial appointment in Lebanons Special Tribunal raises questions

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Herman von Habel, the registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon arrived in Beirut on Monday 28. Jan, 2013 and is set to meet a number of Lebanese officials.

The Lebanese newspaper An Nahar said the meeting will discuss the trials set to start on March 25, 2013.

He will also be looking into the witnesses’ leaks published by the Lebanese media and alongside Lebanese officials will tackle the necessary judicial procedures, in order to protect these witnesses as well as the secrecy of the investigations until the public trials begins.

Lebanese journalist May Chidiac, who was the target of an assassination attempt in 2005, said that Nashabe's appointment was "the biggest mistake the Tribunal can commit."

"With all my respect to his person, I consider that his mission was to discredit the STL from the beginning," she said.

According to the official STL website, "Its primary mandate is to hold trials for the people accused of carrying out the attack of 14 February 2005 which killed 23 people, including the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, and injured many others."

Chidiac's case is not currently being investigated by the STL unless a link can be found between the attempt on her and Hariri's assassination.

Nashabe is the director of Al Akhbar's research unit and up until his leave regularly published a commentary piece for the newspaper. His commentary has often blasted the STL for succumbing to international bias against the defense.

One example appears in a commentary piece from last September called "STL and Hezbollah: A Pre-Packaged Guilty Verdict", Nashabe writes that the United States' labeling of defendant Mustafa Badreddine as a terrorist "sealed the fate...before announcing its verdict."

Other critics

Nashabe is not alone in his criticism of the Tribunal. Al Akhbar's editorial stance in general has been opposed to the STL, a position entrenched by the recent publishing of a list of suspected witnesses. At a Beirut based conference last Friday, the act was cited by STL Spokesperson Marten Youssef as lacking journalistic ethics.

The sentiment was shared by Member of the Lebanese Parliament Marwan Hamade, the target of a failed assassination attempt himself in 2004. At the same conference, Hamade voiced concern that Al Akhbar was endangering the lives of the witnesses.

"The freedom of the press may sometimes amount to murder,” he said.

Chidiac echoed this after she said revealing the witnesses' names "jeopardizes the work of the STL and endangers the life of witnesses."

Al Akhbar's Chief Editor, Ibrahim al Amin fired back at both Youssef and Hamade in commentaries written last week. In one commentary entitled, "A Reply to Marwan Hamadeh: Publish Your Testimony", Amin continued to call the STL illegitimate, describing it as "a scandal".

In another op-ed entitled "Al-Akhbar and the STL: We Will Not Be Silenced", Amin attacks the STL for what he says is a lack of transparency and value for money spent.

Amin also writes, "Other objections are related to a campaign being waged by the STL prosecution team and its political counterpart - its allies in Lebanon - against the defense team appointed by the Tribunal."

A team Nashabe is eligible to be a part of as of 21. Dec, 2012

The new job!

President Baragwanath's decision states that Nashabe may assist the defense by providing information, suggesting potential witnesses as well as a few other actions, so long as he isn't privileged to confidential information.

The decision taken added, "Dr. Nashabe shall be treated as a member of the public for the purposes of access to the premises of the Tribunal and information thereof, and pending any contrary decision of a Judge or Chamber, provision of confidential information shall not be granted to him unless ordered by a Judge or Chamber."

When contacted on Friday, Nashabe said that while he had not officially signed on to the defense at the time of speaking, he had no comment on his appointment.

He said all that could be said was in Baragwanath's decision.

(Justin Salhani is a journalist based in Lebanon who has written for various websites and publications. He can be found on Twitter at @JustinSalhani)

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