- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein, who goes on trial amid massive security precautions today, has instructed his attorneys to turn the hearing into a political confrontation rather than allow it to focus on the specifics of the charges against him, legal sources said yesterday.

The sources also said the ousted Iraqi leader is so fearful of revenge attacks on his family that he has ordered his daughters, who live in Jordan, not to attend the trial.

Raghad, the elder daughter, who lives with her sister and mother in Jordan, has been in charge of organizing Saddam’s defense team.

Apparently under the orders of Saddam’s own much-depleted but still functioning Ba’ath Party, she dismissed a number of the defense team’s foreign advisers and some of its most experienced non-Iraqi Arab lawyers in recent months.

Iraqi and other lawyers have expressed concern that the remaining legal team is not experienced or skilled enough to handle the cut and thrust of courtroom tactics. The plan is for the official lawyer, Khalil Dulaimi, to shift the focus onto the legitimacy of the court, of the regime under which the trial is taking place, and what the defense contends are various irregularities and biases that render the trial invalid.

Western legal analysts here think that the prosecutors will be able to parry these legal challenges and that the court, after hearing out the legal challenges, will insist on hearing the substance of the case.

“They’ve already worked out how to prevent this trial becoming a long, drawn-out farce like [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic’s at The Hague,” said a Western official.

Several different prosecutions are planned, including on the purported gassing of thousands of Kurds in Halabja, the ruthless suppression of two insurrections by Kurds and Shi’ites and the executions that followed, and the invasion and pillaging of Kuwait.

And Iran said yesterday it had sent its own charges against Saddam to the court trying the former Iraqi leader, including that of using chemical weapons against Iranian civilians in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

But the prosecution chose to begin with a simpler case, the execution of 143 Shi’ites in response to a failed assassination attempt on Saddam in the Shi’ite town of Dujail in 1982.

Film exists of Saddam ordering the interrogation of a suspect in that assassination attempt, and prosecutors say this helps overcome the major stumbling block: how to prove that the executions were carried out on Saddam’s orders.

Among the pile of prosecution paperwork handed to the defense are execution warrants signed by Saddam. However, the defense contends that these amount to nothing more than the confirmation of a death sentence imposed by a court of law.

The first day of the trial is expected to be taken up by formalities and some grandstanding by the lawyers.

Inside the elegantly and expensively refurbished courtroom, Saddam and other former senior officials in his regime will sit behind a glass panel.

If they interject or speak on subjects the five judges consider irrelevant, the chief judge can cut off their microphones, and if necessary order a brown curtain to be drawn, shielding them from the view of the small public and press gallery.

It is expected that the proceedings will be televised.

The current Iraqi political leadership is anxious for the maximum press coverage, thinking that it will gain popularity by being seen to be treating the once-omnipotent leader as an accused mass murderer. But the American advisory team, which has played a key role, prefers a low-key approach and has tried to avoid the trial descending into what one Western official called “an O.J. Simpson-style piece of theater.”

One area of attack by the defense will be the composition of the panel of judges itself. The chief judge and at least one of the other five is Kurdish.

After a guilty verdict and condemnation to death — an outcome considered extremely likely by all sides — new cases would be brought. But Saddam may not face them. Under a new law introduced by the current Shi’ite-dominated government, Saddam would have to be put to death within 30 days of any such sentence and after a nine-judge appeal panel has dismissed an appeal.

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