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The Conflict in Iraq

Lawyer Injured in Attack Shuns Ideology

Unlike others for the defense, he's not Sunni nor from western Iraq. He says he reveres law.

November 09, 2005|Borzou Daragahi | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Most of the lawyers defending Saddam Hussein and seven of his deputies were drawn together by the bonds of tribe or the Sunni Muslim faith that made them loyal to the former government.

But Thamer Hamoud Khuzai, who was wounded Tuesday in an attack that killed his colleague Adel Zubeidi, said in a pair of recent interviews with the Los Angeles Times that he joined the defense team for one reason only: the law.

"Our profession is a very sacred and honorable one," the 39-year-old said in an interview less than 24 hours before he was wounded. "We face many dangers and threats. But if you are committed to the job and view it as sacred, then you will do it without thinking."

Khuzai, who has spoken out about the dangers facing the lawyers in the case since the Oct. 20 slaying of fellow defense attorney Saadoun Janabi, is an anomaly several times over.

Unlike the other lawyers defending Hussein and his aides, Khuzai is neither a Sunni nor from western Iraq. He belongs to a southern tribe that is known as exclusively Shiite Muslim, though he declined to identify his sect when interviewed.

And unlike Zubeidi, who saluted Hussein in the courtroom on the opening day of the trial, Khuzai says he has no ideological fidelity toward the former government and would even be willing to defend its enemies, including the former leaders of the Shiite militias whom many Sunnis consider agents of Iran.

"If [Shiite political leader] Abdelaziz Hakim was charged with a crime and needed a lawyer, I would help him without second thoughts," Khuzai said.

But more than anything, he said, he'd like to work in a climate without fear and then "go home in the evening."

Like most of the other attorneys on the defense team, Khuzai practiced criminal law in Iraq during Hussein's rule. He has often been seen sipping tea, hobnobbing with colleagues -- including Zubeidi, a fellow Shiite -- or browsing the law texts at the headquarters of the Iraqi Bar Assn. in the Mansour district of Baghdad.

Khuzai is defending Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president, and Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, Hussein's half brother, against charges of committing atrocities against Shiite villagers of Dujayl after a 1982 assassination attempt on Hussein.

In the interviews, Khuzai voiced fears for himself, his wife and their teenage son and daughter because of his involvement in the case.

"All of us lawyers have pulled our children out of school because of threats," he said. "We've all moved out of our homes so we're not targeted."

On Monday night, he was adamant that defense attorneys would not continue to take part in the trial unless it was moved to another country and an investigation was launched into Janabi's death. He scoffed at offers of security extended by the Iraqi government and U.S. military. Such arrangements, he said, would make them look like patsies for the prosecutors.

"Their idea was for us to move ourselves and our families to the [U.S.-protected] Green Zone," Khuzai said. "But all the lawyers agreed to reject this. It would compromise our independence."

He also voiced frustration with U.S. authorities over what he said was their failure to respond to requests by the defense and the Iraqi government to free Hasan, who is aged and ill with cancer.

In addition to mourning two colleagues killed in the last three weeks, Khuzai is grieving over the loss of his 11-year-old son, who died of an asthma attack several months ago.

For that death too he blamed the U.S. and the government.

"I blame the occupation," he said, "because they could not get me an ambulance in time."

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