BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Saddam Hussein”s trial will resume on schedule despite the slaying of two defense lawyers and the threat by others to boycott the proceedings over an alleged lack of security, a senior Iraqi judicial official said Sunday.
The court is ready to appoint a new team if defense lawyers fail to appear, added Raid Juhi, one of the judges on the special tribunal trying the former dictator and others.
Saddam”s team said in a statement earlier in the day that about 1,100 Iraqi lawyers had withdrawn from the defense, arguing that inadequate protection was evident after the killings of two attorneys who were defending co-defendants of the ousted leader.
The statement did not say if those lawyers included Saddam”s chief Iraqi attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, but it said other team members continued their duties "under complex and dangerous circumstances." Al-Dulaimi suggested last week that defense lawyers would not show up for the next session Nov. 28.
The attorneys who withdrew were among some 1,500 enlisted to help Saddam”s defense, mostly researching legal precedents, preparing briefs and performing other tasks outside the courtroom, said Jordanian lawyer Ziad al-Khasawneh, who was once part of the defense team.
Juhi said the defense threat "will not affect the work of the court." He said the Iraqi High Tribunal is ready to appoint new defense lawyers if none appear.
"We have many legal experts and lawyers, and (the court) will choose from among them" to defend Saddam and the others, he said.
That could result in further delays, Juhi conceded, saying replacement lawyers could ask the court to postpone the trial to give them time to prepare their case.
Still, the defense moves could leave the proceedings in disarray, embarrassing both the Iraqi government and the United States, which have insisted that Saddam face justice in his homeland before his own people.
If the court appoints new attorneys, Saddam will refuse to accept them and the trial will degenerate into "a total farce," Abdel-Haq Alani, a London-based lawyer who is a leading member of the defense team, told The Associated Press by phone.
"The trial would proceed in the absence of the defendant because the defendant would refuse to cooperate," Alani said. "They might as well sentence them without a trial."
Saddam and seven others went on trial Oct. 19 in the killing of 148 Shiite Muslims who were executed in 1982 after a failed assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader in Dujail, a Shiite town north of Baghdad. If convicted, they could be executed by hanging.
One day after the trial began, a defense lawyer was abducted from his office by 10 masked gunmen and his body was found the next day. A second defense lawyer was shot dead and another wounded in an ambush in Baghdad last Tuesday.
Government spokesman Laith Kubba said defense lawyers have twice turned down invitations to move to the Green Zone, where they could be protected by U.S. and other international troops. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani renewed that invitation last week.
There is debate over whether Saddam”s trial can be held fairly in Iraq during the insurgency.
Michael Newton, a former State Department war crimes lawyer, said moving the trial would be "an abdication to those who want to substitute anarchy instead of the rule of law."
"The defense lawyers were offered protection and refused," Newton, a professor of law at Vanderbilt University, said. "So they can”t have it both ways: They can”t decline the protection they were offered and then say that the circumstances are unsafe."
But Laura Dickinson, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, believes the trial ought to be moved. She suggested the United Arab Emirates as a possible venue because judges in Saddam”s trial were trained there.
Elise Groulx, president of the International Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, also said the violence is a troubling factor.
"Is Baghdad a war zone? That is a question that the judges and Iraqi government must answer," Groulx said.
Moving the trial to another country — assuming one could be found to accept it — would require Iraq”s parliament to amend the law that established the court.
Saddam”s lawyers have called for creation of a special international court, but that would require action by the U.N. Security Council, where the United States wields a veto.
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said abandoning the Iraqi High Tribunal would undermine Iraq”s government.
"They want to conduct this trial under their own national authorities, and I think the people who have undertaken these terrorist assassinations obviously are trying to undercut the Iraqi judicial institutions," Bolton told AP.