The defense team in Saddam Hussein’s trial said Wednesday it will not show up for the next session Nov. 28 unless the court accepts its demands for “neutral international intervention” to guarantee security.
The declaration followed the assassination Tuesday of a second defense lawyer in the trial, already threatened by the insurgency and questions about legal standards. Adel al-Zubeidi, lawyer for former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, was killed by gunmen in Baghdad and another attorney was wounded.
Khalil al-Dulaimi, head of the defense team, told reporters the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government bear some responsibility for the assassinations because they have been unable to maintain order in a country wracked by insurgency — much of it fomented by Saddam’s supporters.
Al-Dulaimi released a statement declaring that the defense considers the Nov. 28 trial date “null and void” because of the “very dangerous circumstances that prevent the presence” of the attorneys “unless there is a direct, neutral international intervention that guarantees” security.
Abdel-Haq Alani, a key coordinator on the defense team, was asked by The Associated Press whether he expected the Saddam lawyers to appear in court Nov. 28. Alani replied: “I believe not.”
He told the AP by telephone from London that the Americans were obliged to protect defense lawyers as “the occupying power.” The United States maintains that status ended when the coalition returned sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004.
Saddam and seven co-defendants went on trial Oct. 19 in the deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims who were executed after an 1982 attempt on the former president’s life in Dujail, a Shiite town north of Baghdad. The defendants could receive the death penalty if convicted.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. command announced that a U.S. Marine died of injuries suffered when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle two days earlier in western Iraq. The death brings to 2,055 the number of U.S. military service members who have died since the start of the war in 2003, according to an AP count.
Elaborate security measures have been taken to protect judges, prosecutors and witnesses in the Saddam trial, including keeping their names secret as long as possible. Concern for the safety of the defense team rose when lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi was abducted by masked gunmen the day after the opening session. His body was found later with bullets in his head.
After al-Janabi’s killing, the rest of the defense team announced they were suspending dealings with the special court trying their clients until their security was guaranteed. The latest statement appeared to harden that position.
Defense turned down offers to move trial
However, the government says the defense twice turned down offers to move into the heavily guarded Green Zone, where the courtroom is located, for the duration of the trial. President Jalal Talabani renewed the offer Wednesday.
In an interview with Time magazine the day before his death, al-Zubeidi, a Shiite, said he was working on the defense team because of his allegiance to the law and not to the Sunni-dominated former regime.
Justice the main priority
“We are professionals. We are not related to a political party,” al-Zubeidi said. He told the magazine he spent 14 months in jail in the 1960s and 1970s and had a history of Shiite radicalism.
The Iraqi High Tribunal, which is trying the case, expressed regret over the attacks on the lawyers but said it would “spare no effort” to “achieve justice” in the case. The statement appeared to rule out halting the trial or moving it out of the country.
“The tribunal will take every necessary step to guarantee that all the defendants have a complete defense in the next sessions,” the statement said. “This includes any necessary procedures in this regard, which the tribunal already offered to guarantee the safety of the defense council and their duties.”
Officials said last month that if defense lawyers refuse to appear, the tribunal could appoint a new team.
Doubts raised about trial
The killings have reinforced doubts among some human rights groups and international lawyers about holding such an emotionally charged trial in a country gripped by an insurgency. Shiites dominate the current government, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s Dawa Party has claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt that triggered the Dujail killings.
The trial also risks heightening tensions between majority Shiites, who were oppressed under Saddam, and the minority Sunnis, who dominated his regime.
As an example of sectarian tensions, two car bombs exploded Wednesday night near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, killing six people, police said. Five policemen were killed when a suicide car bomber struck a patrol near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Police in the northern city of Kirkuk confirmed Wednesday that the brother of a leading Sunni Arab politician was kidnapped the day before by gunmen wearing army uniforms. Hatam Mahdi al-Hassani is the brother of parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani.
Sunni insurgents have threatened members of their community who take part in politics, but Iraq also has numerous criminal gangs involved in kidnappings.
In Baghdad, a driver for the Sudanese Embassy was shot to death Wednesday as he left the Palestinian mission, police said. The attack followed the abduction last month of two Moroccan Embassy employees.
Statements attributed to al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility and said the two had been sentenced to death. The group also said it was behind the kidnap-slaying in July of three diplomats as part of a campaign to cut ties between Muslim countries and the Iraqi government.