A defense lawyer in Saddam Hussein's mass murder trial who was kidnapped has been found dead, his body dumped near a Baghdad mosque, a top official in Iraq's lawyers' union said after talking to the man's family.
Saadoun Sughaiyer al-Janabi was abducted from his office Thursday evening by 10 masked gunmen a day after he participated in the first session of the trial, acting as the lawyer of one Saddam's seven co-defendants.
His body was found in the street near Baghdad's Fardous Mosque. Diaa al-Saadi, a senior lawyers syndicate official, said al-Janabi's family confirmed he was dead.
"He was killed. It is confirmed," al-Saadi said.
Al-Janabi was one of 13 defense lawyers in the courtroom for Wednesday’s opening session of Saddam’s trial. He is one of two attorneys for Awad Hamed al-Bandar, one of seven Baath Party officials being tried with Saddam.
For months, the Shaab district where al-Janabi was captured has been the scene of attacks by insurgents and violence between its mixed population of Sunnis and Shiites.
In April and July, there were two deadly suicide car bomb attacks aimed at an Iraqi army base and an army checkpoint. In May, gunmen killed a Shiite Muslim cleric, and the bullet-ridden bodies of two missing Sunni clerics who had been kidnapped there were found. On Aug. 12, members of a Shiite Muslim militia freed four hostages from a home in the Shaab district.
Saddam has pleaded innocent to charges of murder, torture, forced expulsion and illegal imprisonment stemming from a 1982 massacre of 148 Shiites in Dujail, a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad, following a failed attempt on Saddam’s life. The former dictator and his co-defendants could be sentenced to death if convicted.
Election results audited
Meanwhile, teams of international and Iraqi election officials visited several provinces to audit initial results from Iraq’s constitutional referendum that showed an unexpectedly high number of “yes” votes. Nearly one week after the historic vote, Iraqis are still awaiting the outcome of the referendum, an important step in the democratic process that could one day lead to the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces.
The U.S. military reported that one of its Black Hawk helicopters made a hard landing while responding to a medical evacuation request from soldiers wounded by a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad late Thursday. A second helicopter was sent to evacuate them.
On Thursday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of five American service members, including three killed Wednesday by a roadside bomb near Balad, north of Baghdad, and another by a suicide car bomb near the Syrian border. A fifth soldier died from a non-hostile gunshot.
At least 1,988 members of the U.S. military have died since the war started in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Also Thursday, Rory Carroll, 33, the Baghdad correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian, was released unharmed in Sadr City, a day after being kidnapped there by unidentified gunmen. A group of Sadr City residents reportedly raided the area where he was being held by criminals and freed him.
Cloaked in secrecy
Identities of the five judges and the prosecutors in the trial have been kept secret to prevent insurgent reprisals. The names of the chief judge and the top prosecutor were the only ones revealed, and only on the day of the trial, when they appeared extensively in the TV broadcast. It was not immediately known if al-Janabi appeared the broadcast. However, defense attorneys’ names have not been hidden.
After the opening session, the trial was suspended until Nov. 28, but the court will interview a key witness Sunday because of his poor health. That first witness will be Wadah Ismail al-Sheik, a bedridden cancer patient who helped run Iraq’s feared intelligence agency.
Al-Sheik, director of the investigation department at Saddam’s Mukhabarat intelligence agency at the time of the Dujail massacre, will give his testimony in a hospital, court officials said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The United States says the agency is the same one that tried to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993.
Prosecutors said al-Sheik played an important role in the events at Dujail. If he recovers, they said, he may be a defendant in a separate, related case. The officials did not give details on the other case and did not specify al-Sheik’s age.