Second Saddam trial lawyer killed

BAGHDAD - Gunmen have killed a second defence lawyer acting in Saddam Hussein's trial, renewing questions over whether the former president can get a fair trial amid Iraq's daily violence.

Another defence lawyer was slightly wounded in the attack on their car in Baghdad, police and defence team sources said.

The shooting followed the murder of another defence lawyer who was shot the day after the televised start of proceedings on October 19.

It stoked controversy about whether the high-profile trial for crimes against humanity should be delayed or moved abroad.

The defence team, which had already threatened to boycott the next hearing on November 28 unless measures were taken to protect them, said a fair trial was impossible in current circumstances.

In the latest attack, Adil al-Zubeidi was killed and his colleague Thamer Hamoud al-Khuzaie wounded when their car came under fire in the western Baghdad district of Hay al-Adil, police and defence team sources said.

Both men were on a team defending Saddam's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. Millions watching across the country last month saw Zubeidi argue forcefully with the judge, brandishing documents and jabbing his finger as he protested the validity of evidence.

In last month's attack, Saadoun al-Janabi, representing another of the eight defendants, was kidnapped from his office and shot. Local people said his killers identified themselves as Interior Ministry employees on October 20, the day after the lawyer's court appearance at the start of the trial.

"There can be no fair trial without providing security for witnesses, judges and lawyers on an equal footing. No trial can take place in such conditions," Issam Ghazzawi, a spokesman for Saddam's Jordan-based defence team, told Reuters in Amman.

Richard Dicker, who is monitoring the trial for Human Rights Watch in New York said: "This second killing ... heightens the concerns that we've had all along.

"It's urgent if this trial is to go forward that effective measures are put in place to protect the defence lawyers ... The Iraqi government and US advisers need to go the extra mile."

Judicial system at risk

Thabit Fahad, a senior lawyer in Baghdad, said the entire judicial system was at risk from such attacks: "A lawyer wants to defend his client even if he is the Devil himself. That is his job and the nature of his profession."

The government has denied involvement in Janabi's death but the killing renewed accusations of sectarian violence involving government forces and pro-government Shi'ite militias ranged against Saddam's fellow minority Sunni Arabs.

One of the reasons the judge gave for adjourning the trial last month was that witnesses had been too scared to turn up.

Human rights organisations have expressed concern about the safety of all concerned in the trial. Only one of the five judges in the trial has been identified or seen in public.

The start of the trial was watched on television by Iraqis around the country but some in the Sunni Arab minority condemned it as a show-trial and "victors' justice" orchestrated by the Shi'ite and Kurdish-led government.

The defence team has said they do not trust the police or other official Iraqi security forces to protect them, prompting human rights groups to call for alternative measures.

The trial is the first case to be brought against the former president, who was ousted in April 2003. Investigative judges are also pursuing further cases including the invasion of Kuwait, the suppression of Shi'ites and Marsh Arabs, the ethnic cleansing of Kurds and political murders.

- REUTERS

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