BAGHDAD, Iraq – An American lawyer on Saddam Hussein's defense team lashed out at the court trying him Monday, saying it was not giving the defense enough time to present its case, intimidated its witnesses and put the defense at "a serious disadvantage."
Curtis Doebbler chided the chief judge for not responding to a series of defense motions, including ones challenging the court's legitimacy and seeking documents.
"We are at a serious disadvantage to the prosecution because of the way we have been treated by the court," Doebbler told chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman. "We want to work for justice. But that must start by having a fair trial. But under the current circumstances, that doesn't seem possible. We ask that the trial be stopped to allow us adequate time to prepare our defense."
He pointed out that the prosecution took more than five months to present its case, while the court is rushing the defense, which began its arguments in April. Abdel-Rahman has repeatedly demanded the defense present full lists of witnesses.
"Our witnesses have been intimidated by the court and have been assaulted," Doebbler said. "Several lawyers were assaulted as well."
Four defense witnesses were arrested two weeks ago after presenting their testimony, and the defense said some of them had been beaten by Iraqi police as U.S. soldiers watched. Abdel-Rahman accused the four of committing perjury.
Saddam and seven former members of his regime are on trial for charges of crimes against humanity in a crackdown against Shiites in the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam. They are accused of torturing women and children and wrongfully killing 148 Shiites sentenced to death for the attack on the former Iraqi leader.
Doebbler is one of two American lawyers, along with former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, who have joined the defense team, though they have not attended every session. Doebbler is an international lawyer who is currently working as a visiting professor at Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus.
He accused the court of ignoring the defense's requests. "We have not received one reasoned opnion in response to our enormous written submitions," he said.
Among the motions are ones questioning the tribunal's legitimacy, but others are more substantive, seeking documents the defense says are key. It has asked the court for the entire records of the 1984 trial by Saddam's Revolutionary Court that sentenced the 148 Shiites to death.
That trial is key to the case, since the prosecution has claimed it was a cursory showtrial in which the Shiites had no chance to present a defense. Saddam's lawyers have contended it was a fair legal proceeding and a justified reponse to the shooting attack on Saddam. The chief judge of the Revolutionary Court, Awad al-Bandar, is among the seven co-defendants in the Dujail case.
"We've not been able to visit the place where the Dujail events took place," Doebbler said. "I have asked to visit the place for a year and I haven't received any answer."
The defense has also sought an inquiry into claims by three of its witnesses that some of the 148 Shiites supposedly killed in the crackdown are still alive. Abdel-Rahman ordered an investigation, but there is no sign that one has begun and the three witnesses were among those he ordered arrested on perjury charges.
The defense argues that if some of the 148 are still alive, it casts the entire prosecution case in doubt and has demanded all the prosecution's documents be reviewed for authenticity.
Saddam and his co-defense face possible execution by hanging if convicted on the charges. The perceived fairness of the trial is a crucial issue, since U.S. and Iraqi officials have hoped that showing justice toward Saddam will help heal the deep Shiite-Sunni divisions that have exploded since his regime's fall.