Attackers assassinate another lawyer in Saddam trial

Killing casts doubt on Iraq's ability to try the case.

saddams lawyers 88 (photo credit: )
saddams lawyers 88
(photo credit: )
Three masked gunmen in a speeding Opel assassinated a second lawyer in the Saddam Hussein trial, casting doubt on Iraq's ability to try the case and leading a prominent war crimes prosecutor to urge moving the proceedings to another Arab country. Adel al-Zubeidi, lawyer for former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, died Tuesday when bullets sprayed his car in a largely Sunni Arab neighborhood of western Baghdad. The shots also wounded Thamir al-Khuzaie, attorney for another co-defendant, Saddam's half brother Barazan Ibrahim. The brazen daylight attack on a major avenue came three weeks after the kidnap-slaying of another defense lawyer, Saadoun al-Janabi. His body was found Oct. 20, one day after the trial's opening session, where he represented Awad al-Bandar, a former official in Saddam's Baath Party. No group claimed responsibility for the killings. An Iraqi government spokesman pointed to Saddam loyalists for the latest attack, while the dictator's lawyer blamed the Shiite-dominated government. Regardless of who was responsible, the killing of another defense lawyer reinforced grave misgivings among human rights groups and international lawyers about holding the trial in a country gripped by a brutal insurgency - much of it led by the defendants' supporters in the Sunni Arab minority. "I don't understand how you can have a fair trial in this atmosphere of insecurity, with bombs going off," said Richard Goldstone, the first prosecutor at the UN tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and one of the world's most prominent jurists. He told The Associated Press by telephone that Iraq's government should consider shifting the trial to an Arab country "where there is security." Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, brushed aside that idea and insisted the next session would proceed in Baghdad as planned Nov. 28. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Washington would support Iraq as it proceeds with the trial. Both the Iraqi government and the United States have long insisted the trial be held in Iraq before an Iraqi court so Saddam could answer for crimes allegedly committed against his own people. Iraq's insistence on the right to execute Saddam and his allies if they are convicted rules out holding the trial before an international court, such as the UN tribunals hearing cases from the Balkans and Rwanda. Kubba suggested pro-Saddam insurgents were responsible for Tuesday's killing. "We know that Saddam and his followers are ready to do anything when it serves their interest and to block the work of the court," he said. Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, accused the Iraqi government, claiming the killing was carried out by "an armed group using government vehicles." He repeated his previous demand that the trial be held in a neutral country. "The aim of these organized attacks is to scare Arab and foreign lawyers," al-Dulaimi told Al-Jazeera television. "We call upon the international community, especially the secretary-general of the United Nations, to send an investigative committee because the situation is unbearable." Saddam and seven co-defendants went on trial Oct. 19 in a special court in the heavily guarded Green Zone. They are charged in the 1982 deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims in Dujail following an assassination attempt against Saddam in that town north of Baghdad. Trial judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin postponed the proceedings until Nov. 28 to allow the defense time to prepare. After the killing of the first lawyer, defense attorneys announced they would not cooperate with the court and would refuse to appear at the next session until they were satisfied with security. Kubba said the lawyers twice turned down invitations to move to the Green Zone, where they could be protected by US and other international troops. In a statement, US Embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Colton said the United States "considers defense counsel a vital part of the judicial process" and puts a priority on their security. "All parties have been offered various security measures and some have accepted," she added. The United States has worked for years to train an Iraqi judiciary to conduct the proceedings by international standards. Richard Dicker, an expert in international law at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said a fair trial is impossible "if effective measures are not implemented to provide security for defense attorney who are clearly at risk." Elise Groulx, president of the International Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, voiced similar concerns. "If we want the trial to restore peace and security to this country, we have to ensure it is fair and effective. Of course, there can be no legitimate, fair trial if there is no effective defense," Groulx said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan acknowledged the necessity of ensuring "that you have the security environment in place for those trials to proceed and for witnesses to be able to participate in the trial as well in a secure way."