Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Death sentence no surprise to Saddam, lawyers say

`MANIPULATED' While the deposed Iraqi leader's defense team said his morale was still high, Human Rights Watch called the trial and sentencing a loss for the victims

AFP , AMMAN

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had expected to be sentenced to death, but his morale is high and "made of steel," his defense team said yesterday, adding that they will appeal the verdict.

"I was among 12 defense lawyers who met Saddam Hussein for four hours on Saturday afternoon. His morale was very high, it was made of steel," Tunisian lawyer Ahmad Siddiq told reporters in a phone interview from Baghdad.

"He told us he was convinced he would get the death sentence and he said `you have done everything you could, but the court was manipulated,'" Siddiq said.

In a separate phone interview from Baghdad, Saddam's lead Iraqi lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi dismissed as "invalid" the Iraqi High Tribunal that issued the "unfair" death sentence yesterday against Saddam.

"We consider the verdict as unfair because if the court had been honest it would have acquitted Saddam and his comrades because they have not committed any crime," Dulaimi added.

Saddam and two of his senior allies were sentenced to death by hanging after the court found them guilty of crimes against humanity over the massacre of 148 Shiite villagers after a 1982 assassination attempt in the Iraqi village of Dujail.

Dulaimi, who was among the lawyers who met Saddam, said that the convicted former Iraqi leader urged the Iraqi people during the meeting to unite their ranks, free Iraq of foreign occupation and "avoid any act of vengeance."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday slammed the trial and sentencing of Saddam and six co-accused as a failure to establish the facts and, as a result, a loss for the victims.

The trial "was a failure to establish an indisputable record of the facts and a sense of responsibility for what happened," HRW's director for international justice Richard Dicker told reporters by telephone from New York.

"It was a lost opportunity to give a sense of the rule of law and a loss for the victims in that the trial and verdict are unlikely to stand the test of time," he said.

"The trial offered the opportunity to bring justice to the villagers of Dujail who suffered enormously," Dicker said, adding he was still awaiting the detailed judgements to see how well charges and verdicts were linked by evidence.

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