Saddam's defence team says lawyers will attend trial

Defence lawyers will attend next week’s trial of Saddam Hussein and former top members of his regime, dropping a threat to boycott the proceedings because of the killing of two counsel, a spokesman for the defence said today.

Defence lawyers will attend next week’s trial of Saddam Hussein and former top members of his regime, dropping a threat to boycott the proceedings because of the killing of two counsel, a spokesman for the defence said today.

“All the lawyers will attend the trial on Monday and a decision has been taken not to leave the (toppled Iraqi) President (Saddam Hussein) alone,” said Issam Ghazawi.

“We will not allow the court to appoint other lawyers,” Ghazawi said. “The lawyers are forced to attend the hearings, despite serious threats on their lives, but they want to do that to serve justice.”

Defence lawyers have feared for their lives since October 20, the day after the trial began, when attorney Saadoun al-Janabi was kidnapped by masked gunmen. His body was found the next day with bullet wound to the head.

On November 8, defence lawyer Adel al-Zubeidi was killed in an ambush and a colleague, Thamir al-Khuzaie, was wounded. Al-Khuzaie fled the country and asked for asylum in Qatar.

The defence has asked the authorities for increased protection and threatened to boycott the trial unless this was provided.

Saddam and his co-defendants are charged with the 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shiites in Dujail, north of Baghdad, following an attempt to assassinate him in the town.

Were the defence lawyers to boycott the trial, the Iraqi High Tribunal would ask “standby” lawyers from its own Defence Counsel Office to step in, a US official said.

The official, briefing reporters in Baghdad yesterday on condition of anonymity, said he expected the defence lawyers to attend the hearing on Monday.

He said American and Iraqi authorities had urged defence lawyers to accept their offers of the “most robust security possible”.

Ghazawi said the defence team had received no such offer. “We read about these things only in the media, but we have not received anything official from the court and I’m not aware that any of our requests have been answered,” he said.

The lawyers had asked the court to provide them with extra protection, or housing inside the Green Zone in central Baghdad, which is guarded by the US military. They had also called for a UN probe into the killing of their two colleagues.

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