Plot targets Hussein judge

8 Sunnis confess role

Clark to assist defense as trial resumes today

November 28, 2005|By ASHRAF KHALIL | ASHRAF KHALIL,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi police announced the arrest of eight men accused of plotting to kill one of the top judges in the Saddam Hussein trial as a prominent American anti-war activist arrived here yesterday to assist the defense team when the trial resumes today.

Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general, was accompanied by Najib al-Nueimi, a former justice minister in Qatar.

"Our plan is to go to court in Baghdad on Monday morning representing defense counsel as defense support," Clark told reporters before departing from Amman, Jordan. "A fair trial in this case is absolutely imperative."

Clark was at the center of international efforts to prevent the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Along with British Parliament member George Galloway, he was one of the most prominent Western critics of the invasion.

Since their arrests, the eight men have confessed to planning to kill Raed Juhi, the investigative judge who is responsible for assembling the case against Hussein, police said.

The eight suspects from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority were apprehended Saturday in the northern city of Kirkuk, said police Col. Anwar Qadir. He said they were carrying written instructions from a former top Hussein deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, ordering them to kill Juhi, who prepared the case against Hussein and forwarded it to the trial court in July.

Al-Douri is the highest-ranking member of the Hussein government still at large and is believed to be at least the symbolic leader of loyalists fighting U.S. forces and Iraq's new government.

Juhi has been the most public face of the trial and one of the few officials with the Iraqi High Tribunal willing to appear on camera.

"As an Iraqi citizen and a judge, I am vulnerable to assassination attempts," Juhi told the Associated Press. "If I thought about this danger, then I would not be able to perform my job. ... I will practice my profession in a way that serves my country and satisfies my conscience."

When the trial resumes today, Hussein and seven co-defendants will face charges in the deaths of about 150 people in the southern village of Dujail. The killings are alleged to have been in revenge for a 1982 assassination attempt against Hussein there.

Under tribunal guidelines, cases are structured around incidents such as the Dujail killings or the 1998 poison gas attacks in the Kurdish city of Halabja, rather than around accusations against any one person.

The Dujail trial opened for one day Oct. 19 and then was delayed to give the defense team more time to prepare. The next stage of the trial is expected to last several days before adjourning until after Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

Clark, who served as attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson, has worked for months as an adviser to Hussein's legal team. But it is not clear whether he will be allowed into the special courtroom deep inside Baghdad's walled-off Green Zone.

Neither Clark nor al-Nueimi has been officially recognized by the court as legal counsel. U.S. and Iraqi officials said Hussein's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, did not officially request permission for foreign attorneys to attend.

Clark wrote last month that Hussein's rights had been systematically violated since his capture in December 2003, including his right "to a lawyer of his own choosing."

Intense security procedures have surrounded the trial, including retinal screening and sometimes aggressive questioning of observers and journalists.

Lawyers for Hussein and the other defendants, who include the former president's half brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, have complained that inadequate security has made it impossible for them to do their jobs.

Two members of the defense team were killed in separate incidents shortly after the trial opened, prompting the other lawyers to threaten a boycott. They agreed to participate last week after the Iraqi government offered them personal security details and lodging in the Green Zone.

The team is expected to mount a dual defense -- challenging the authority of the tribunal while justifying Hussein's deeds as the legitimate acts of a sovereign president seeking to maintain Iraq's stability and national unity.

Clark and others say a fair trial is impossible in Iraq because of the violent insurgency and because the country is effectively under foreign military occupation. U.S. and Iraqi officials insist that the trial will conform to international standards.

If convicted, Hussein and his co-defendants could face the death penalty. But several other trials could follow for incidents that include the Halabja gassings, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the suppression of Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991.

That process could take years, but several prominent Iraqi politicians have suggested dropping the remaining charges in favor of a quick execution on the Dujail charges if the defendants are found guilty.

Ashraf Khalil writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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