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Iraq: Latest Killing Of Hussein Trial Lawyer Heightens Concerns

  • Kathleen Ridolfo --> Hussein on the first day of his trial last month (AFP) Two lawyers representing co-defendants of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were shot on 8 November in Baghdad. Adil al-Zubaydi was killed instantly while Thamir Hamud Hadi al-Khuza'i was wounded; both men are listed on the Iraq Special Tribunal website as lawyers for former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

The attack comes less than three weeks after defense attorney Sa'dun Antar al-Janabi was kidnapped from his office and later found dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005). Hussein and seven members of his regime are on trail for war crimes related to the 1982 massacre of Shi'ite Arabs living in the town of Al-Dujayl.

While no party has claimed responsibility for the killings, there is no shortage of suspects. The perpetrators could be average citizens seeking revenge for crimes committed by Hussein's regime against their families. Many Iraqis have expressed shock and anger over the fact that a fellow Iraqi would defend Hussein and the others on trial.
Should the attorneys refuse to return to work, the only option for the tribunal would be to find them in contempt of court and assign new lawyers to represent Hussein and the other co-defendants.

It is also quite plausible that the killings were carried out by the Ba'ath Party itself in an attempt to disrupt or delay the trial. The killings lend support to calls by Hussein supporters to move the trial to The Hague, which would delay the process considerably.

For months, defense lawyers representing the eight men have sought to move the trial outside of Iraq, claiming that their clients would not get a fair trial from the Iraqi Special Tribunal. The tribunal denied a request to move the trial to The Hague, and the court began proceedings on 20 October. Al-Janabi was abducted hours after the court session ended.

Al-Janabi's kidnapping and subsequent killing outraged defense attorneys who claimed in a series of interviews with Iraqi and Arab media outlets that they were putting their lives in danger, adding that the Iraqi government had failed to provide for their safety in Baghdad.

"We hold the U.S. troops and the Iraqi government responsible for protecting the lives of all the lawyers on the defense panel. We have submitted several requests [for protection]...however, all our requests...have fallen on deaf ears," Hussein attorney Khalil al-Dulaymi told Al-Jazeera television on 20 October. Al-Dulaymi added that the abduction was "meant to frighten the [defense] attorneys who are defending members of the legitimate leadership."

Government spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters on 23 October that defense attorneys were offered, but declined, protection from the government before the trial began. The defense panel also rejected an offer to have their faces obscured by the cameras inside the courtroom and to have their names publicly withheld. Kubba told reporters that the government would gladly provide security to the defense attorneys upon request in the future, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2005).

Defense attorneys refused to attend a special court session at a Baghdad hospital on 23 October, where lawyers and judges listened to the testimony of a terminally ill witness in the case. Again, defense attorneys cited security issues, but the government said it had offered protection to the lawyers. Defense lawyer Ziyad al-Najdawi later declared in an interview with Baghdad's "Al-Dustur" published on 26 October that the testimony, given without the presence of defense attorneys, was "a violation of the rules of justice and the integrity of the court."

On 26 October, the lawyers declared a strike in protest of al-Janabi's assassination, saying they would not return to work without protection. The demand, in light of Kubba's comments, appeared more as an attempt to delay the trial than a concern for their own fate.

It remains unclear whether defense attorneys will return to court when the tribunal reconvenes on 28 November. Court officials last month told that discussions were under way to provide "substantial protection" to the attorneys, the website reported on 27 October. But defense attorney Khamis al-Ubaydi told the website that the lawyers would not return to work until al-Janabi's killers were brought to justice.

Meanwhile, lead prosecutor Ja'far al-Musawi said on 7 November that attempts to negotiate protection for the defense lawyers has gone nowhere because calls to the lawyers from his office go unanswered. He contended that the defense lawyers' staff recognized his office's telephone numbers on caller I.D. and refused to pick up, reported on 8 November.

Should the attorneys refuse to return to work, the only option for the tribunal would be to find them in contempt of court and assign new lawyers to represent Hussein and the other co-defendants. It is unclear, however, whether the court would be able to find competent lawyers willing to defend Hussein and his co-defendants. If new attorneys are appointed, the move would buy additional time for Hussein, as the new defense team would likely seek a delay in order to prepare its defense.

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