Saddam's lawyer insists he is still part of team

A French attorney for Saddam Hussein today dismissed an Iraqi court’s statement that the former dictator had fired an international defence team, but conceded the team could only provide behind-the-scenes help.

A French attorney for Saddam Hussein today dismissed an Iraqi court’s statement that the former dictator had fired an international defence team, but conceded the team could only provide behind-the-scenes help.

“It’s President Saddam Hussein’s desire to have the most international group of lawyers possible at his side …,” Emmanuel Ludot said.

“We know from dependable sources what Saddam Hussein wants, and we will respect the instructions of our client, who is Saddam Hussein.”

Yesterday, the Iraqi Special Tribunal said the 1,500-member legal team had been fired.

Ludot called that announcement a “manipulation,” and charged that the “Americans are behind it”.

The Iraqi Special Tribunal said that only one attorney – of Iraqi nationality - would be authorised to represent Saddam, and that Saddam himself told Judge Raid Juhi on Monday that he did not want international lawyers, counsellors or advisers.

“The Americans and the government in place have every interest in dividing the lawyers and weakening the defence of Saddam Hussein,” Ludot said.

Ludot also said that an August 8 announcement by Saddam’s family in Jordan that they had dismissed the defence team “had been twisted,” and “did not reflect the desires of Raghad Hussein”, the Iraqi dictator’s eldest daughter, whose signature was on the statement.

“We’ve continued our work in close contact with Raghad Hussein via phone, e-mail and fax,” he said, and added that he had Raghad’s written authorisation to defend her father.

Ludot also has said he is among the lawyers representing former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, and said today that Saddam’s former number two was “sick and depressed”.

“For the first time, Aziz was able to call his son, who contacted us and said that his father was detained under bad conditions, and was sick,” Ludot said.

Aziz’s attorneys have called for additional legal assistance and plan to circulate a petition calling to have his trial moved out of Iraq, according to Ludot.

Ludot said he and colleagues had appealed for help in arranging a meeting with his clients in Iraq, but had received no response.

“We have been asking the Red Cross, the Americans, the Iraqis and the French for an armoured car and bullet-proof vests for my colleagues and me for months now, but all we get is total silence,” he said.

“We don’t want to be pumped full of holes while going into the cells of Saddam, Tariq Aziz or the others. We want to come out alive from the cells.”

The lawyer has said he was invited to join Saddam’s defence team in December 2003 by a group of the deposed dictator’s lawyers in Cairo, which he called a “core group” of attorneys. A larger defence team of 1,500 also has been established.

Ludot refused to say whether he had been paid yet for Saddam’s case but insisted that he would not work pro-bono.

“One doesn’t work for free on a case of this magnitude,” he said. “When the right time comes, all of the lawyers will sit down and sort out our fees.”

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