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Lawyers Discuss Fairness of Saddam Trial Under Interim Iraqi Government - 2004-06-30

Independent lawyers in the Middle East, including lawyers who work for Saddam Hussein, say they are worried about the fairness of any trial under the present interim Iraqi government. They say the trial should be postponed until an elected government is in place in Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein and 11 of his former senior officials were transferred to Iraqi custody Wednesday, but officials say their trials could still be months away. Lawyers are already intensely at work figuring out the legalities of trying Saddam Hussein.

One of the deposed Iraqi president's lawyers, Mohamed Al-Rashdan, says he and other members of Saddam Hussein's defense team are ready to participate in a trial, although he expects it to be "illegal and unjust."

Mr. Al-Rashdan says the current government is illegal, even though it has been endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. He says Saddam Hussein is still legally the president of Iraq, and any tribunal set up by the new government will be biased against him.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has pledged the trial will be just and fair.

"Saddam will be entitled to have representation, entitled to appoint lawyers. And, maybe if he doesn't have the money to appoint lawyers, the government will pay the money so that he is represented well," said Mr. Allawi. "We assure you that it will be a just trial and a fair trial unlike the trials that he inflicted on the Iraqi people."

Money is apparently not an issue for Saddam Hussein and his family. Mr. Al-Rashdan, a Jordanian, is only one of a reported 20 non-Iraqi lawyers, appointed by Saddam Hussein's wife, Sajida, to defend the deposed president. Mr. Al-Rashdan says a major concern for the defense team is its safety when it travels to Iraq. He says he has received death threats and he wants international protection.

Saddam and his colleagues are expected to be formally charged on Thursday with war crimes and several other offenses. A legal consultant at the Arab Organization for Human Rights, Alaa Shalaby, says only an elected government should attempt to conduct a trial of that magnitude.

"Of course, we are with trying those who are accused of committing crimes against humanity, against Iraqi people, Kurdish and Shiites and also some other crimes, like war crimes against Kuwait and against Iran for example," he said. "But it must be, this trial, it must be a fair trial, to be a fair trial, we are not against that Iraqi government, Iraqi judges will look into the case, but that needs to be a free Iraq first, a legal government, appointed by the people, so you can have a fair trial, it is a matter of principle."

The Secretary General of the Union of Arab Lawyers, which groups attorneys from across the Arab world, suggests a different approach.

Attorney Ibrahim Al-Samalali says if a future elected Iraqi government decides Saddam should be tried, he should be sent to an international tribunal, as deposed leaders from other countries have been.

But Iraq's new leaders have no such plan. As the most broadly-based government in Iraq's history and with Security Council recognition, they are proceeding with preparations to put Saddam Hussein and his colleagues on trial as soon as possible, and they pledge the trial will be open and fair.