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The Conflict in Iraq

2nd Hussein Trial Defense Lawyer Slain

November 09, 2005|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Gunmen killed a second defense lawyer in the trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants on Tuesday, throwing the controversial proceedings into greater turmoil and casting new doubt on the credibility of the tribunal.

Adel Zubeidi, who was representing former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, was slain in a drive-by shooting in western Baghdad. Thamer Hamoud Khuzai, another lawyer for the former vice president, was wounded.

Zubeidi's slaying came nearly three weeks after the killing of Saadoun Janabi, who was defending Awad Hamed Bandar, the former head of Hussein's Revolutionary Court. Hussein, Ramadan and Bandar are among eight former government leaders charged with planning and ordering the revenge killings of 146 people from the town of Dujayl, where a 1982 assassination attempt against the former president took place. All of them face possible death sentences.

Iraqi authorities said they had no suspects in the case, and the motive remained unclear. Some analysts speculated that Hussein's enemies were trying to weaken his defense and make a death sentence more likely. Others asserted that Hussein supporters may be trying to discredit and derail the proceedings.

The slaying raised new questions about whether the trial should be moved out of the country. Even before the killings, legal experts were questioning whether the tribunal -- set up without U.N. authorization -- was legitimate or fair.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have defended the decision to hold the trial in Iraq, saying that bringing the former dictator and his aides to justice on their home soil sends an important message to a country that lived for so long under often brutal repression.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times less than 24 hours before he was wounded by gunfire, Khuzai complained about the dangers facing him and his colleagues.

"We don't think this trial is working well because of the risks we're facing," Khuzai said. "The country is filled with political militias."

The remaining dozen or so defense attorneys in the case have promised to boycott the trial, which convened Oct. 19 and then recessed until Nov. 28 to give both sides time to prepare. "We will boycott the tribunal, and we demand that it should take place in another country," defense lawyer Majid Sadoon said after the attack. "There is no security, nor stability."

Iraqi officials and the U.S. military have offered security arrangements for the lawyers, including suggesting that they move into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, the government district where the trial is being held. But the attorneys have refused on the basis that it would compromise their independence.

Michael Scharf, a Case Western Reserve University legal scholar who helped train Iraqi jurists for the trials, faulted the defense attorneys' refusal to accept the security measures and called their strategy "a deadly gambit" to discredit the proceedings, force delays and bring about a venue change.

"The defense counsel brought this tragic situation upon themselves when they elected to have their faces and identities broadcast during the first day of the trial, and when they subsequently refused to accept the Iraqi and U.S. military's offers of security," he said. "Now they are seeking to exploit the tragic, but not unforeseeable murders of their colleagues in an attempt to derail the proceedings."

But Diane M. Amann, an international law expert at UC Davis, said that it was understandable that defense attorneys would decline the type of security arrangements accepted by the prosecutors and judges in the trial.

The U.S., she said, "simply did not take into account the very different situation of defense attorneys. That is, they need to operate independently from and without owing favors to the government that is trying to prosecute their client.

"Therefore, it is much more difficult to accept the kind of security prosecutors have received, and it has become impossible for the tribunal to protect them."

Richard Goldstone, former lead prosecutor at the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, said that the slayings could make it impossible to hold a just trial for Hussein.

"I don't see any prospect of a fair trial in Baghdad without security," he said. "If that is going to take a long time, then they should hold the trial in another Arab country with security."

One possible venue, he said, would be the United Arab Emirates, which is close to Iraq, has adequate security and a "welldeveloped" legal system.

Though the effect of the slayings remains to be seen, Iraqi observers agree there are several possible motives.

Hibba Khaled Mansouri, an Iraqi lawyer, is among those who believe that Hussein's enemies are attempting to cripple his defense and make a death sentence more likely. "If Saddam were to get sick, they would also kill his doctor," she said.

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