Alleged Political Assassins' Trial Starts Without Them

Hague takes up long-awaited case of Rafik Hariri's murder
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 16, 2014 10:27 AM CST
Judges Janet Nosworthy, David Re and Micheline Braidy await the start of a trial at the courtroom of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in Leidschendam, Netherlands, Jan. 16, 2014.   (AP Photo/Toussaint Kluiters, Pool)
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(Newser) – The Hague's Special Tribunal on Lebanon today began the trial of four people accused of assassinating Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in what the BBC is calling an "unprecedented tribunal"—in part because the accused aren't there. It's the first time the Hague has tried someone in absentia since the Nuremberg trials. Hezbollah is shielding the four suspects from arrest, the New York Times explains, and if international authorities ever do apprehend the four, they'll be entitled to a new trial should this one convict them of charges including premeditated murder and terrorism.

But prosecutors launched into opening arguments today nonetheless, saying the Feb. 14, 2005, attack was intended to sow fear, and arguing that the perpetrators used more explosives than necessary to kill Hariri. Indeed, 22 others died in a suicide blast that created a crater 35 feet wide. The prosecutors' case is based primarily on records from more than 50 cellphones, along with roughly 500 witness statements, which they say show that the accused closely charted Hariri's movements for months and obtained the van that was then loaded with explosives. The nearly four years of preparation has already cost $325 million, notes the BBC; in response to accusations that the money is wasted, the tribunal has said "justice is not a waste of time." (Read more Rafiq al-Hariri stories.)

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