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Defense strategy in Saddam trial detailed

- Paul Martin

(Friday, September 30, 2005)

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[ A key defense argument will be that the court is illegitimate because the U.S.-led invasion was illegal, Mr. Dulaimi said. ]

Saddam Hussein's attorney yesterday outlined his strategy for defending the ousted Iraqi dictator, beginning with plans to delay the scheduled Oct. 19 start of the trial by saying he needs more time to examine the evidence. Khalil Dulaimi told The Washington Times that he had just been handed a stack of new papers about a little-known massacre at a village where residents tried to assassinate Saddam in 1982 -- the first case the court plans to hear. "The 20 days left is not enough time to go through all the documents, which the Iraq Special Tribunal had two years to prepare," Mr. Dulaimi said in an e-mail. "I haven't even read them yet, and we will need months not weeks to go through it."

The first stage of the trial is to begin Oct. 19 inside the heavily defended green zone in central Baghdad. Mr. Dulaimi, who left the country to consult with other lawyers after meeting Saddam at his cell near Baghdad's airport, also provided details about how his client is faring in captivity. "Saddam enjoys high morale ... and he believes that Iraq will defeat the occupiers, and that legitimacy will be brought back," the lawyer said. He also said Saddam still considered himself the legitimate president of Iraq. "He is still holding to the constitutional authority with which the Iraqis have authorized him."

A key defense argument will be that the court is illegitimate because the U.S.-led invasion was illegal, Mr. Dulaimi said. He outlined other arguments that he hopes will prevent the trial from reaching the stage of calling witnesses. He will argue that the trial should be aborted because Saddam's actions when in power were immune from prosecution by virtue of clauses in the Iraqi constitution.

He also would say that the tribunal was "a political court and not a legal court and will not be a fair and decent court." The tribunal has been "trying its best to block and put impediments to prevent any lawyers from other Arab countries or abroad" from appearing in court, even though Saddam had asked for them by name, Mr. Dulaimi said. This would make Saddam's representation "incomplete and illegal," the lawyer said. The tribunal's rules, reportedly based on Iraqi civil law, preclude non-Iraqis from appearing in front of Iraqi judges.

"Dulaimi has been winning the pretrial propaganda war hands down so far," said a Western source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The source said the prosecution has been reticent to seek the limelight and overwhelmed with the grandstanding by Saddam's attorney and supporters. The source said the trial will be televised from court-installed fixed cameras -- though with a slight delay.

The defendants will be visible behind bullet-proof glass, and a dark curtain will be drawn across the dock "if a defendant gets out of hand." Iraqi politicians have been eager to secure a quick conviction -- and preferably a fast execution of the anticipated death sentence. "The defense has every incentive to drag things out -- and you can see from Mr. Dulaimi's statement to you that this is precisely what they are doing," the source said.

Saddam, caged by the US-led Marines listens to a Judge in a Courtroom at a secret site in Baghdad Thursday, July 1, 2004
Saddam, caged by the US-led Marines responds to a question by a Judge in a Courtroom at a secret site in Baghdad Thursday, July 1, 2004

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