Saddam lawyers suspend contact with court

Lawyers representing Saddam Hussein announced on Wednesday that they will suspend all contacts with the special tribunal trying the ousted Iraqi president until they are given better security.

The decision follows the killing of Saadun Janabi, an attorney representing one of Saddam’s co-defendants, a day after the opening of the trial last week of the ousted dictator on charges of crimes against humanity.

“In view of the dangerous security conditions in Iraq and their impact on Iraqi members of the defence team, along with the never-ending threats against them and their families ... a decision has been taken to fully suspend all contacts with the Iraqi special tribunal,” said a statement issued by a Jordan-based team and lead Iraqi counsel Khalil al-Dulaimi.

The statement, issued on behalf of a Saddam defence group, also accused the judges on the tribunal of “violating” the rights of the defence lawyers.

“Given these circumstances, it is impossible to have a fair and open trial,” it said.

Defence lawyers said their boycott will last until their demands are met and appealed for a time freeze on proceedings in the meantime.

The trial, which opened on October 19 in Baghdad, was adjourned until November 28 after Saddam and his seven co-defendants pleaded not guilty over the 1982 massacre of Shi’ite villagers.

Call for probe, protection

On Tuesday, a group of former foreign leaders backing the defence team called for a United Nations probe into Janabi’s murder, while defence lawyers also appealed for UN protection.

In their statement, the lawyers put forward 10 conditions for ending their protest, including an independent international investigation into Janabi’s killing, UN protection for meetings of the defence committee and the hiring of 15 bodyguards per lawyer to ensure their protection.

They also asked to be allowed to carry weapons and to be given passes to get them through Iraqi and United States security checkpoints.

The lawyers also said they want assurances that security forces will not raid their offices or homes or tap their telephones, that money and documents confiscated from them be returned and that no lawyer be arrested without the bar association being informed of it.

They also asked that foreign lawyers be allowed to assist in the defence and be recognised by the court within two weeks.

Dulaimi later said the suspension of contacts does not amount to a boycott, a move that would allow the court to replace the defence team.

“A large number of foreign lawyers have asked to represent the president [Saddam],” Dulaimi said.

Small number

So far, the defence team has only officially asked the Iraqi justice ministry and bar association for a small number to be allowed to join in Saddam’s defence, Dulaimi added.

Those whose names have officially been put forward include former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, US international human rights lawyer Curtis Doebbler and Franco-Lebanese lawyer Andre Chami, Dulaimi said.

Sources close to Dulaimi suggested the defence team would ask for up to a dozen foreigners to be officially allowed to represent Saddam.

Iraqi judicial authorities “have so far failed to agree to their involvement in the trial”, Dulaimi said. “They want to prevent Iraqi lawyers from benefiting from their expertise.”

Saddam and seven former henchmen are being tried for the 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shi’ites from the village of Dujail, north of Baghdad, and could be sentenced to death if convicted.

Dulaimi said he has not had a chance to speak to his client since their first day in court, but added that the former president “keeps very high morale” and “doesn’t care about the court proceedings” as he does not recognise its legitimacy.

“All he cares about is the approval of the Iraqi people,” he added.—AFP

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