BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Saddam Hussein”s lawyer has asked that the start of the ousted leader”s trial be delayed and challenged the court”s competence, but officials dismissed the request and said Sunday that the Oct. 19 starting date is firm.
Saddam and seven members of his toppled regime are due to stand trial before the Special Iraqi Tribunal on charges they ordered the 1982 massacre of 143 people in Dujail, a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt against the ousted leader.
If convicted, Saddam and his co-defendants could face the death penalty. If their final appeals are turned down and their sentences upheld, the execution by hanging must take place within 30 days, according to the court”s statutes.
The trial is expected to be the first of about a dozen involving crimes against humanity committed by Saddam and his regime”s henchmen during his 23-year rule. These include the 1988 gassing of up to 5,000 Kurds in Halabja and the bloody 1991 suppression of a Shiite uprising in the south after a U.S.-led coalition drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.
Abdel Haq Alani, a Britain-based legal consultant to Saddam”s daughter Raghad, told The Associated Press Sunday that Saddam”s Iraqi lawyer Khalil Dulaimi was served Sept. 25 with a written notification designating Oct. 19 the starting date.
Additionally, Dulaimi was also "handed some documents, said to be pertinent to the alleged evidence to be presented in court," Alani added.
Dulaimi has petitioned the court to delay the opening session, "because the court should not expect to give us only two weeks to review the case and the documents, while it took it two years to do so," Alani said.
A second petition questions the competence of the court, Alani said, without elaborating.
Dulaimi was not available for comment.
In Baghdad, a senior official from the Iraqi Special Tribunal confirmed Dulaimi”s actions, saying the petitions were turned in a week ago, but dismissed them as "marketing gimmicks" without legal basis.
Such motions can be presented to the court when it convenes, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect himself from retaliation.
Court officials have said privately they expect the defense will ask for a delay during the first session and that the judges will agree to a 15-day adjournment, which could be extended.
Due to Iraq”s precarious security, the identities of the court”s five judges have not been revealed and may remain concealed during the trial. Also, witnesses are likely to testify from behind a screen or some other arrangement to protect their identity.
The Iraqi Special Tribunal was created during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, which began in April 2003 and formally ended 14 months later. Its statute, however, has been endorsed by Iraq”s democratically elected parliament this year.