BAGHDAD — Masked gunman yesterday kidnapped a lawyer who had appeared in court a day earlier to represent one of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendants, sparking fears that defense attorneys have become targets of revenge attacks by Shi’ite and Kurdish militias.
Saadoun Sughaiyer al-Janabi was seized from his Baghdad office yesterday evening, police said.
Mr. al-Janabi was one of two attorneys for Awad Hamed al-Bandar, one of seven Ba’ath Party officials being tried with Saddam in the 1982 massacre of Shi’ite Muslims in a town near Baghdad. Al-Bandar was the chief judge of the court that sentenced at least 143 Shi’ite villagers to death.
Mr. al-Janabi appeared with 12 other defense lawyers on the opening day of Saddam’s trial Wednesday.
The kidnappers arrived yesterday evening at Mr. al-Janabi’s office in the Sunni-Muslim area of Adamiyah in Baghdad, which had been — and largely remains — a stronghold of Saddam loyalists.
It was the site of Saddam’s final public appearance, in which he was videotaped shaking hands with crowds shortly before U.S. forces ousted him in April 2003.
Until Mr. al-Janabi’s kidnapping, fear of retaliatory attacks had mostly affected the prosecution team, the judges and potential witnesses.
The names of the chief judge, a Kurd, and the top prosecutor, were not disclosed until Wednesday, and the identities of other judges and prosecutors remain secret.
The judge recessed the trial for six weeks, in part to arrange protection for witnesses, many of whom are too frightened to testify.
With yesterday’s kidnapping, defense lawyers have become targets as well.
“I’ve been thinking about getting out of town now for a while,” said Badie Izzat, a lawyer representing former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, whose case has not yet reached court.
“However, despite the kidnapping, I have decided to remain in Baghdad so I can demand more access to my client,” Mr. Izzat said.
Most of the other lawyers, rather than go to their offices, have stayed home since the trial was adjourned.
Saddam’s lead defense counsel, Khalil Dulaimi, lives in a stronghold of the Sunni-led insurgency — Ramadi.
Defense lawyers, meanwhile, have until Nov. 28 to plan a new courtroom strategy after a legal blunder by Saddam Wednesday.
By pleading not guilty, Saddam conferred a form of recognition on the court and undercut defense plans to argue that the special tribunal was illegitimate.
Saddam’s top Britain-based legal adviser Abdul Haq al Ani told a British Broadcasting Corp. television news show that the error occurred because “Saddam was never allowed proper legal advice.”
In a rancorous exchange with an American legal analyst, Mr. al Ani contended that because a U.S. soldier was present in the consultation room, this rendered the consultations improper.
Other defense lawyers, who declined to be named, also said they were dismayed that the prosecution had obtained hard-to-refute documentary evidence of a wide-ranging mass-murder conspiracy containing Saddam’s “fingerprints.”
The scope of the evidence became known late Wednesday, when prosecutors described their case in court.
Jafaar al-Mussawi, the prosecutor, said in outlining the charges that the outcome of thetrials by a Revolutionary Court of those accused of trying to kill Saddam had been decided in advance and were part of a predetermined screenplay.
He said Saddam had issued direct orders — once on July 29, 1982, at meetings with his two main fellow defendants, Taha Yassin Ramadan and half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti.
Mr. al-Mussawi said he would produce documents recording that a small committee reported their “findings” on an assassination directly to Saddam.
As result of the meeting, farms were burned and salt deliberately spread over fields near the Shi’ite town of Dujail — to prevent crops from growing — and 687 persons were arrested and tortured, he said.
At least 143 persons were executed and buried in secret, their whereabouts remaining unknown till after Saddam’s fall from power, he said.
Four of these persons had not even been anywhere near Dujail at the time of the assassination attempt on Saddam, he said.