Wednesday, October 19, 2005

BAGHDAD — Lawyers for Saddam Hussein proclaimed on Arab television channels yesterday after the opening day of the former dictator’s murder trial that the proceeding had proved to be a farce and an embarrassment to the Iraqi and U.S. governments.

Also, Saddam’s elder daughter, Raghad, gave her first interview in two years on Al Arabiya television, saying her father had proved his bravery and had induced “even more love” from his exiled family.

Despite the combative nature of Saddam’s courtroom performance and posthearing proclamations — lawyers on both sides conceded that the prosecution has wrested significant advantages as the “mother of all trials” opened.

A lawyer representing one of eight defendants on trial yesterday told The Washington Times that Saddam had gone against legal advice by entering a plea of not guilty to the charges.

His answer to the presiding judge’s question of guilty or not guilty was “I am innocent.”

“He undermined our side’s best argument — that the court should itself not be recognized in any way, as it is illegitimate,” said the attorney, who asked not to be identified.

Legal analysts also said the fact that Saddam sat down when the judge ordered him to, then listened attentively to the prosecutor’s accusations, also somewhat damaged the initial propaganda advantage gained by refusing to provide details of his “identity.”

The biggest blow against the defense was the extent of documentary evidence that the prosecutor said he would produce.

Until the delivery of 800 pages of charges and supporting evidence, the defense team had thought they would easily rebut any charges of mass murder.

Once the case got down to substantial issues rather than challenges to its legitimacy and objectivity, Saddam’s lawyers had expected to argue the substance of the defense on one major point — that, in signing death warrants against the 143 persons executed after an assassination attempt, Saddam had acted as would any executive president worldwide.

The defense was to contend that execution warrants signed by Saddam amounted to nothing more than the legitimate confirmation of a death sentence imposed by a court of law.

“Even Jeb Bush would sign a death warrant if a Texan court sentenced a person to be executed,” said a defense adviser, Abdul Haq al Ani, who apparently was confusing President Bush — the former governor of Texas — with his brother Jeb, who is governor of Florida.

Mr. al Ani had worked with trial lawyers on defense strategy at his home in southern England, where he has practiced law and runs a charity called Child Victims of War.

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