With his trial about to start, Saddam Hussein’s trial lawyers are struggling to prepare a defense while saddled with a lack of money and a meddlesome daughter of the ousted leader.
For now, their strategy appears to be to try to delay proceedings as much as possible. They are challenging the trial’s Wednesday start date, saying they haven’t had enough time to review evidence allegedly tying Saddam to a 1982 massacre of Shiite Muslims in a town north of Baghdad.
Lack of time isn’t the only problem.
Former legal advisers complain that Saddam’s eldest daughter, Raghad, has interfered with the defense lawyers’ work in destructive ways.
Raghad fired nearly all her father’s 1,500 Arab and international lawyers in August, complaining they had given her conflicting advice. Some former team members complained she favored non-Arab lawyers.
“She controls the lawyers although she has no legal background, and she keeps changing her mind every time she speaks to a different attorney,” said one of the fired lawyers, who agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name, to avoid harming his relations with Saddam’s family.
“I think Raghad will send her father straight to the gallows,” he added.
Money is another problem, the legal team contends, despite allegations that Saddam pocketed millions, including funds skimmed from the now-discredited U.N. oil-for-food program.
“Raghad is penniless,” said Ziad al-Khasawneh, a Jordanian lawyer who resigned in July over differences with her.
He said Raghad lives off the generosity of the rulers of Jordan, Qatar and Yemen, although she is often seen in Jordan’s most exclusive shops buying designer outfits and jewelry with cash taken from a leather briefcase carried by a male bodyguard.
Al-Khasawneh said lack of money undermined his effort to file lawsuits against the U.S. and British governments for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He had planned to claim the invasion violated international law.
Saddam’s main Iraqi lawyer, Kahlil al-Dulaimi, has proposed that the Iraqi Special Tribunal or the media pay for defense expenses. Raghad’s aides have approached a few media organizations offering exclusive access to the defense team in return for cash.
Overall, except for their focus on the lack of time to prepare a defense, Saddam’s lawyers have been reluctant to lay out their strategy publicly before the trial.
“Our legal argument will be based on the indictment,” said Abdel Haq Alani, a Britain-based Iraqi lawyer who serves as the chief defense strategist.
In addition to the defense seeking a postponement in the trial and challenging the legitimacy of the tribunal, Alani said the team could raise doubts about the credibility of witnesses and contest “the factual and legal elements” of the prosecution case.
Although the Iraqi tribunal was established under foreign occupation, its legal status was affirmed this year by the democratically elected parliament.
Delaying the trial
Privately, court officials say the five-judge panel hearing the case will likely approve a defense motion for a 15-day adjournment, which could be extended. Al-Dulaimi maintains he has not had time to prepare because he was formally notified of the trial date less than three weeks ago.
Prosecutors say all evidence was handed over to defense attorneys Aug. 10. But Alani said it was unreasonable to expect Saddam’s lawyers to have thoroughly reviewed all the documents that prosecutors took two years to compile.
Meanwhile, Alani said an unspecified number of international lawyers would soon join the defense team.
He declined to identify them, but aides said the new lineup included former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who was part of the team fired in August, and Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who earlier announced a committee to ensure Saddam’s trial is fair.