Archives : FR | IT | ES

Articles since 2022

It’s illegal: top defence lawyer

Saturday 3 July 2004

- Contact the author

The group of Arab and foreign lawyers engaged to defend Saddam Hussein has ignited a furious debate over the legality of the special Iraqi tribunal, and claims the process will inevitably lead to the former dictator’s conviction and execution.

Even before Saddam and 11 former Iraqi officials appeared in court last night to face war crimes charges, Mohammad Rashdan, lead lawyer in the 20-strong defence team, condemned the tribunal as "illegal and unjust".

The Jordanian lawyer’s team, which includes US academic Curtis Doebbler, French barrister Emmanuel Ludot, Swiss lawyer Marc Henzelin, and leading British lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano, has been hired by Sajida Khairallah, Saddam’s first wife, and their three daughters, to defend the former president.

So far the defence has not been recognised by the Iraqi authorities, and they have not been allowed to meet Saddam or see any court papers.

"We are facing clear legal violations in this trial and do not recognise this tribunal," Mr Rashdan said.

"Any trial is illegal and unjust and is based on an aggression that took place against Iraq. On what basis was the court set up? Who appointed the judges?"

He claimed the bench had been bribed by the US-led coalition force.

US and British officials in Baghdad, who have spent the past year building evidence to be used in a war crimes trial, said it would be possible to secure successful convictions to international standards. But they insisted more time was needed to gather evidence for the prosecution.

"We have found some very significant documents among the 30 million seized," said a senior US official in Iraq. "We have witnesses prepared to testify in court. We have forensic teams working at mass grave sites. But there is a lot more to do."

The head of the special tribunal, Salem Chalabi, said Saddam would be tried for crimes relating to a massacre of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and war crimes against Iran and Kuwait. He said Saddam’s suppression of Shia Muslims in 1991 was well-documented.

The defence is hoping to employ tactics similar to those used by Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serb nationalist leader, who questioned the legality of his trial in the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, and raised doubts about the prosecution’s claim he had personally ordered atrocities committed during the fighting in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Mr Ludot yesterday called the Iraqi penal code "Stone Age legislation" and said it was ill-suited to Saddam’s case.

The interim Iraq Government took legal custody of Saddam from the US-led military on Wednesday.

"Iraqi penal procedure dates back to the Stone Age. The 1969 penal code, taken up again by the Americans and therefore still in effect, did not foresee a situation like the one we’re in now," Mr Ludot said.

"We fear a legislation of circumstance: the goal is obviously to execute Saddam Hussein as quickly as possible."

Iraqi President Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar said his Government had already approved the reinstatement of the death penalty.

Mr Di Stefano told ABC Radio yesterday that Saddam’s legal team might use the defence of sovereign immunity. They would argue that as leader of Iraq, he was entitled to carry out the actions of which he is accused.

Mr Di Stefano also made a startling comment that the defence team would be making an application for Saddam’s provisional release.