Murder of defence lawyer threatens Saddam trial

The murder of a second defence lawyer in the Saddam Hussein trial threatens to unravel the proceedings of the United States-sponsored court, set up to try crimes committed during Iraq’s former dictatorship.

Lawyers for Saddam and his seven co-defendants in the trial for crimes against humanity that opened on October 19 have suspended contacts with the court, demanding a 10-point list of demands be met.

The eight face charges connected to the 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shia villagers from Dujail, north of the capital. All pleaded not guilty, but if convicted they could be executed.

Issam Ghazzawi, a spokesperson for Saddam’s Jordan-based defence team, said the lawyers planned to meet in Amman on Wednesday or Thursday to “evaluate” the situation.

“We have to meet because the situation is not normal,” Ghazzawi said, adding that defence councils from outside Jordan would be joining the meeting.

The defence team said they want an independent international investigation into the abduction and assassination of defence lawyer Saadun Janabi, found dead on October 21.

Janabi represented Awad Ahmad al-Bandar, a former chief judge of Iraq’s revolutionary court and deputy head of Saddam’s office.

And another lawyer, Adel Mohammed Abbas, was shot dead on Tuesday when gunmen opened fire on him and lawyer Tamer Hammud Hadi in Baghdad. Abbas represented former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Hadi, wounded in the attack, works on the defence of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half-brother and former head of the Mukhabarat intelligence services.

The Saddam defence lawyers have said they want United Nations protection for meetings of the defence committee and the hiring of 15 bodyguards per lawyer to ensure their protection.

If the court cannot even protect the defence lawyers, “one has to question the legitimacy of the proceedings”, said Raymond Brown, a US international law expert who in 2004 served as a defence co-counsel at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

A court can not claim to be legitimate if it is linked to a regime that can not guarantee the safety of trial participants, Brown told Agence France Presse.

“No matter what it does, it raises the fundamental legitimacy of the process,” said Brown.
And if the defence lawyers refuse to participate, “that may precipitate a crisis”, he said.

However, presiding judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin has the authority to order the defence team to court and force them to accept government or US security, said Michael Scharf, a US professor of international law at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

“Judge Amin has to sit down and read them the riot act,” said Scharf, who was on an international team that helped train the Iraqi High Tribunal judges in 2004 and 2005.

Amin can also press obstruction of justice charges, which carries penalties that range from a fine, to being disbarred, to jail time, Scharf said.

“The judges are not going to let this boycott derail the proceedings,” said Scharf, interviewed by telephone from Baghdad.

“There is a lot of pressure from a lot of quarters for the trial to proceed on schedule.”

Security is directly linked to a key issue that has dogged the court which was set up with Iraq under US occupation right from the outset—legitimacy.

“The tribunal has to be seen as fair if it is to have any modicum of legitimacy,” said Michael Kelly, a US law professor who has written on Saddam and the trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

The court “is not really in a political position to proceed with the trial of Saddam in absentia or unrepresented by counsel” when the trial re-opens on November 28, he said.

Spanish human rights judge Baltasar Garzon said in late October that Saddam should be tried in an international court to maximise impartiality.

“No matter what the composition of the tribunal, what must be guaranteed is the right to a defense, the guarantee of a just trial,” said Garzon, who earned international attention by holding former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet under house arrest for 503 days on an international warrant.

But moving the trial abroad raises other issues.

“You’re not immune from terrorist attacks wherever you go,” said Scharf. And a foreign trial makes it more difficult for the defence to subpoena witnesses, Brown said. - Sapa-AFP

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