Murder of Saddam Hussein's lawyers creates no-win situation

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Despite the assassinations of two defense lawyers in Saddam Hussein's first trial for crimes against humanity, a University of North Texas political scientist doesn't believe that the trial will be moved out of Iraq, although he adds that more violence can be expected.

The trial, one of several that will be prosecuted by Iraq's Special Tribunal, was adjourned after its opening session on Oct. 19 and is scheduled to resume Nov. 28. Defense lawyers for Hussein and his co-defendants have said they will boycott the tribunal after lawyer Saadoun al-Janabi was kidnapped and found slain Oct. 20 and a second lawyer, Adel al-Zubeidel, was assassinated Nov. 8. A member of the defense team has asked for the United Nations' involvement in the trial so it can be moved to The Hague, Netherlands.

Dr. James Meernik, an associate professor and chairman of the UNT Department of Political Science, says that while holding the trial in a country other than Iraq "would result in greater protection for all involved," it would also "risk undermining two of the fundamental purposes of the trials" -- publicizing crimes allegedly committed by Hussein to the Iraqi people, and helping to develop "a local, transparent and democratically accountable judicial system."

"Certainly, those staging the attacks understand this and are seeking both to undermine the trials and the Iraqi government," Meernik says. "This puts the Iraqi government and the U.S. in a no-win situation. It is extremely difficult to hold such high-level and polarizing trials in the midst of a civil war."

Meernik says trial observers can expect more violence and more calls for moving the trial out of Iraq.

Meernik and his wife, UNT Associate Professor of Political Science Kimi LynnKing, have witnessed and studied in depth the trial of another alleged war criminal -- former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. Like Milosevic, who is being tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, Hussein will use his trial for "grandstanding," the professors agree.

"Milosevic has tried to play the victim and charged that he and the Serbian people were victims of the West, particularly the U.S., Britain and France, who don't appreciate the sacrifices of the Serbs," Meernik says. "Because Saddam Hussein is being tried in his own country by the Iraqi people, he will blame the new Iraqi government and the United States. He will adopt a strategy similar to Milosevic's, claiming that he had to put down uprisings during a civil war. He will argue that he was illegally removed from power."

King says a huge difference between the two trials is that Hussein has been presented with more than 10 different charges, including the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, for separate trials, while Milosevic is receiving one trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Members of Iraq's ethnic groups will want to see Hussein prosecuted for specific crimes against their people, she says.

Because of this, prosecutors may be trying Hussein for many years. King points out that Milosevic's trial began in 2002, and is continuing indefinitely because the ousted leader requested more than 1,600 people to appear as witnesses, including former president Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"To speed up the pace of the trial, prosecutors are allowing statements by affidavit. Hussein will also call witnesses from foreign governments and will claim he will have expository statements from the witnesses to show that he had support from foreign governments," she says.

Meernik says both prosecutors and Hussein's defense team will face two challenges: loss of key evidence that was destroyed during the war in Iraq, and finding witnesses to testify.

"It will be difficult to find former supporters who are willing to turn against Saddam," he says.

Meernik and King have been attending the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia since 1996, making five trips to conduct research. They twice led a group of UNT students to the Tribunal to interview judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and Tribunal staff.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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