updated 7/1/2004 7:51:26 PM ET 2004-07-01T23:51:26

Lawyers who claim to represent Saddam Hussein complained as they watched television pictures of the former Iraqi dictator appearing before a judge Thursday, saying they should have been by his side.

Saddam's appearance at an arraignment held in what had been one of his palace compounds dominated Arab TV Thursday. It was perhaps watched nowhere as closely as in the Amman offices of lawyers who say they were appointed to defend Saddam by the ousted dictator's wife, Sajidah.

“This is tyranny and absolute cruelty,” said Ziad al-Khasawneh, one of 20 lawyers on the Saddam defense team. “How can this be called a fair trial if President Saddam Hussein, may God bless him, was denied his basic right to a lawyer?”

British lawyer helping, too
Another team member, Tim Hughes of Britain's Bevan Ashford consultancy firm, was asked how he could defend a man infamous for atrocities against his own people. Hughes said the team “respects that everybody has the right to be defended. It is a fundamental human right, and we respect this fundamental human right.”

Ali Jarekji  /  Reuters file
Jordanian lawyer Mohammed Rashdan hosted a meeting Thursday of attorneys hired by Saddam Hussein’s wife to represent him.

Hughes said he and his colleagues were “kept in the dark” about the proceedings. He said the lawyers were ready to go to Iraq, but “we will be wanting to have full assurances” of their safety.

The defense team, which includes lawyers from Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya and Western countries like the United States, Britain, France and Belgium, is headed by Jordanian Mohammed Rashdan.

“This is an illegal trial which adds to U.S. violations which include its unjustified aggression on Iraq,” Rashdan said Thursday.

The lawyers had gathered in a smoke-filled room at Rashdan's office in the heart of the Jordanian capital to map out a defense strategy when word came that television stations were about to broadcast video of Saddam appearing before an Iraqi judge.

Al-Khasawneh had speculated that a look-alike, not Saddam, would appear in court. After watching the television pictures, he said: “Unfortunately it’s him.” He said he was convinced by the way Saddam firmly identified himself as “the legitimate president of Iraq.”

Tribunal's director criticized
Rashdan accused the interim Iraqi government and the court trying Saddam of being “illegitimate because they were appointed by the occupation.”

Rashdan also argued that many members of the interim government headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi were “illegitimate because they hold foreign passports in violation of Iraqi law.”

He also questioned whether Salem Chalabi was fit to direct the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Iraqi law stipulates that an appointed judge must have practiced his profession for at least 10 to 15 years, Rashdan said.

“We are sure that Chalabi has not practiced his profession for even one hour,” he said.

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