Iraqi defense team declines to appear

Lawyers for Hussein, co-defendants point to security in refusal to attend hearing

October 24, 2005|By BORZOU DARAGAHI AND ZAINAB HUSSEIN | BORZOU DARAGAHI AND ZAINAB HUSSEIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Lawyers for Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants refused to attend a special court hearing yesterday, pointing to worries about violence and the recent assassination of one of their colleagues.

The defense attorneys have demanded that the Iraqi government and U.S. forces let them deputize their own relatives and tribesmen as armed bodyguards before they agree to continue to take part in the trial, which opened Wednesday.

Prosecutors interviewed a former intelligence officer who is in poor health in a private hospital yesterday in the presence of an investigative judge but without defense lawyers. They said they had offered the defense several ways to take part in the session.

The lead prosecutor said the witness, Wadah Ismail al-Sheik, testified against Hussein and his deputies on charges stemming from the punishment of Shiite villagers in the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt.

The dispute over security came as bombs and shootings left at least nine Iraqis dead yesterday and cut off vital exports from Iraq's northern oil fields.

A car bomb in central Baghdad killed three Iraqis, including two police officers, and injured 13 in one of the city's busiest districts.

In Baqouba, 40 miles northeast of the capital, a police officer walking through the market was shot and killed in an ambush. In nearby Baladrooz, gunmen assassinated a Shiite cleric.

In Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, a police officer and his two sons were killed by a roadside bomb.

Car bombs and roadside explosives in downtown Kirkuk killed at least one person and wounded 11. Four bombs nearby targeted Iraq's northern oil pipelines.

The violence foreshadows the difficulties that might arise in conducting a sensational trial in one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

The spat over the hearing also shows how the two sides might duel in the news media before the next full court session on Nov. 28.

The U.S.-backed government vows that the trial will continue.

"The government will not interfere in the judiciary process, but its duty is to provide these trials in order to provide justice for the people," spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters. "We will not transfer the trial outside Iraq because all the resources are here. We want the people to sense justice."

Defense attorneys say they can't mount a proper defense for their clients in the current climate of insecurity. On Thursday, Saadoun al-Janabi, who was defending the former head of Hussein's Revolutionary Court, was found dead about an hour after gunmen grabbed him from his office.

The killing of the 58-year-old attorney has sparked an uproar among defense lawyers, who have demanded an international investigation.

Kubba said the defense lawyers rebuffed government offers of the same protections and security it has given other officers of the court. They rejected an offer to obscure their faces during trial and to keep their names private, he said.

"We offered them security advice," he told reporters. "If they ask for security, it's our duty to provide it."

Defense lawyers say they mistrust the Interior Ministry, which they claim is infiltrated by Shiite militiamen who wish them harm.

"We do not know the people in the Ministry of Interior," said Khamees Hamid al-Ubaidi, a veteran criminal lawyer who represents several of the defendants. "We want our relatives to protect us. We want the people in charge to issue licenses for them to carry weapons."

Lead prosecutor Jaffar Mussawi said the court had offered the dozen or so defense attorneys four ways to attend yesterday's session, including participation via video teleconference or the supply of a U.S. military escort, but the defense refused.

Mussawi said the hearing was recorded for possible introduction as evidence once the trial resumes next month.

"They're just being difficult," he said in an interview.

Borzou Daragahi and Zainab Hussein write for the Los Angeles Times.

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