IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Two lawyers dead. Can Saddam trial take place?

NBC News' Becky Diamond reports on what the assassination of a lawyer involved in Saddam Hussein's trial means for the future of the case.
/ Source: NBC News

BAGHDAD — Adel al-Zubeidi, a lawyer for former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan — a co-defendant in Saddam Hussein's trial — was shot and killed on Tuesday. Another attorney associated with the defense of Saddam and other ousted Iraqi officials was wounded in the attack.

The assassination of a second lawyer associated with the trial calls into question the feasibility of conducting the trial for Saddam and his co-defendants in Iraq. (The other lawyer, Saadoun al-Janabi, was abducted and killed on Oct. 20.)

NBC News' Becky Diamond reports on what the latest violence means for the future of Saddam’s trial, the likelihood that the case will be tried in Iraq, and what the latest attack means for the future of the Iraqi justice system in general. 

What does the assassination of a lawyer for a co-defendant of Saddam Hussein, and the attempted assassination of another defense lawyer, mean for the future of the Saddam trial?
It raises questions as to whether a fair trial can proceed in a climate of fear.

Many people that you speak to here have no doubt that Saddam Hussein is guilty of the crimes he’s been accused of. But he, according to a contemporary justice system, deserves a fair trial — as fair as anyone else.

So that means that his lawyers have to have access to him. They have to be able to operate and move around freely. Right now because of the violence in Iraq, and the specific violence targeted towards them, they can’t do that.

There are human rights groups that are concerned, and I think that the international community is concerned as to whether or not you can have a fair trial in Iraq.

How likely is it that these most recent attacks will lend further credence to the demands by some of the defense lawyers, as well as the international groups like Human Rights Watch, that the trial of Saddam’s trial and that of his co-defendants will be moved? 
The Western officials that are here, the U.S. officials that are here, won’t speculate about that issue. They insist that the decision as to where to hold the trial is the Iraqi government’s decision.

There is support here to have his trial here. This is the place where he ruled, these are the people that he allegedly murdered, and these are the people that want him brought to justice. So, there is a case to be made that the trial stay here.

However, human rights groups and some Iraqis say that this just isn’t a place where you can have a fair trial. They point to Slobodan Milosevic being tried in front of the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, or the Rwandan genocide tribunals. Both of those procedures are taking place outside of the host country.

So, you have to wonder what is the right way to handle this particular case. There is no perfect solution, so they just have to find the best solution.

Who would possibly work as a defense lawyer for the defendants since clearly they are taking their lives in their hands if they do?
For the most part, it’s going to be people that believed in Saddam Hussein. But it could also be someone who believes fervently in the right to a fair trial. 

You can be a defense lawyer and defend someone you believe is guilty of the crime they are accused of, but also believe that person deserves a good defense. So, anyone who believes in that premise could stand up as a defense attorney for Saddam or his co-defendants.

But, it is likely in this situation to be someone who is a Sunni, or who is disenfranchised, and who believes that that the trial is unfair.

Do they know who is responsible for these attacks? What are their motives?
They don’t know. Saddam’s lead attorney was on al Jazeera TV [soon after the news broke] and he accused the government. But they don’t know who is responsible. There will clearly have to be some sort of investigation.

There is a lot of militia warfare going on between Shiite groups and Sunni groups — with local violence and accusations flying all over — but there is very little proof. So, for the moment, we don’t know. So, that creates a climate of fear as well.

Does there seem to be any irony in the fact that it’s the defense attorneys that are being targeted? Since, as far as we know here, the insurgents in Iraq have typically been supporters of Saddam?
Yeah, I think it is a little unusual. The majority of the targets seem to be Shiite and this is different. But, then again, there seems to be an increase in this sort of local — I’m not sure if it is militia violence or who is perpetrating it — but, there seems to be an increase in this sort of tit-for-tat, or ethnic violence. So, in light of that context, it doesn’t surprise me. 

And in light of the passion and extent of people’s feelings about Saddam Hussein, it is not surprising. Saddam is obviously a flashpoint for so many people and they feel very strongly about him in different ways. So, in that sense, perhaps it is a harbinger of worse things to come. You hope not, but who knows.

What does it mean for the future of the Iraqi justice system in general?
I think that it becomes an issue of the short term, versus long term.

In the short term, it’s clearly not good to have anyone like this murdered with impunity or seemingly impunity, particularly in the middle of a legal proceeding. It raises all sorts of human rights concerns and concerns over the effectiveness and fairness of this trial.

However, in the longer term, there is promise. If Iraq could have a trial that in the end is fair, that would be a good thing. Right now, the short term obviously doesn’t seem rosy in that sense.

But just because Saddam Hussein seems guilty, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve a fair trial. That’s the basis of a free society and that has to happen, one way or the other.