Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Saddam's lawyers face hurdles, including acceptance

LEGAL ISSUES One attorney said the goal is to challenge the tribunal -- but first the defense team must convince the US and Iraq that they do represent the ex-president


Even fallen dictators deserve a fair trial, some of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's lawyers argue. Others on the legal team say they're rallying to the cause of a symbol of Arab pride toppled by an imperial power.

That combination means the defense strategy during a trial expected to start next year is likely to be a mix of tactics, from trying to prove Saddam is not as vicious as many believe, to challenging the legitimacy of a court chosen while Iraq was under US occupation.

"If we put a sufficient amount of traps in the functioning of this court, the Americans and the new Iraqi authorities might perhaps backstep," said French attorney Emmanuel Ludot, one of 21 lawyers who say they have been appointed by Saddam's wife Sajida.

Ludot said one goal is to have the UN propose other judges -- and if that doesn't work challenge the current court at every step.

"Our job will be to work so that this tribunal doesn't function, that it be paralyzed as long as possible," Ludot said in Paris.

First, though, the team must persuade the Americans and the Iraqis they are Saddam's lawyers.

None are Iraqi, and Iraqi officials say an Iraqi must at least lead the team. US authorities have refused to let the legal team or other lawyers see the Iraqi dictator, who was arrested in December -- yanked from an underground hideaway by American forces -- and is being held in a US-controlled jail until Iraqis are ready to take physical custody of him.

No lawyer was at Saddam's side when he was arraigned July 1 in Baghdad on broad charges that included killing rival politicians over 30 years; gassing Kurds in Halabja in 1988; invading Kuwait in 1990 and suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991.

Until defense lawyers are allowed to meet Saddam, a long-term strategy is unlikely to emerge, said Curtis Doebbler, the only American on a team that includes Aicha Moammar Gadhafi, daughter of the Libyan leader, and lawyers from Belgium, Britain, France, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.

Doebbler, an expert on international law, told reporters in Washington earlier this month his clients over the past decade have included Ethiopian refugees and political activists in Sudan.

"Whether it's a former president or whether it's a refugee, individuals have the same basic human rights," Doebbler said. "Even the people we dislike the most have a right to a fair trial."

Doebbler said he has asked the US Supreme Court to declare the detention of the deposed Iraqi leader unconstitutional.

"Even the basic rights of due process, the basic rights of fair trial are being stomped on," Doebbler said in an e-mail.

Issam Ghazawi, a Jordanian on the defense team, said he was defending Saddam because "in my conviction and personal view, he's innocent and all the allegations against him are false."

He also said that Saddam represents "Arab pride and dignity, and defending him is the least I can do."

The team leader, Jordanian Mohammed Rashdan, is a Saddam admirer who fought alongside Iraqis in the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq war. Rashdan said he was collecting documents he said challenged accusations Saddam was responsible for the 1988 attack with chemical weapons on the Kurdish town of Halabja that killed at least 5,000 people.

"Tests on the chemicals used showed that it was material that the Iraqi army never possessed," he said, hinting that Iran carried out the attack.

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