Saddam, Co-Defendants Reject Protection Offer

Lawyers for Saddam Hussein and seven codefendants reject an offer of protection from Iraq's Interior Ministry. One defense attorney was murdered this week. How will security affect court proceedings? Richard Dicker, monitoring the trial for Human Rights Watch, speaks with Debbie Elliott.

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In Baghdad today, lawyers for Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants rejected an offer of protection by Iraqi's interior ministry. The trial of the eight men charged in a massacre opened on Wednesday. On Thursday, one of the defense attorneys was kidnapped and then killed. Richard Dicker is an observer at the trial for the international group Human Rights Watch. He's been expressing concerns about whether the former Iraqi leaders can get a fair trial. Mr. Dicker joins me now from Baghdad.

Hello, sir.

Mr. RICHARD DICKER (Human Rights Watch): Very glad to be with you.

ELLIOTT: Up to this point, what protection have these defense attorneys had?

Mr. DICKER: Well, from what they explained to us, they have had very little protection provided either by the tribunal or the US Regime Crimes Liaison Office.

ELLIOTT: Why were the defense lawyers a target?

Mr. DICKER: That's a very good question. It's a way of trying to intimidate and derail any possibility of an effective legal defense for the accused to go after their lawyers. I say that cognizant of the fact that these defense attorneys may have political beliefs that are quite objectionable; nevertheless, they are functioning in their capacity as officers of the court and they should in no way be the focus of any intimidation. It's a attack on any effort to establish respect for the rule of law.

ELLIOTT: Why did the lawyers reject the security that was offered to them by the Iraqi interior ministry?

Mr. DICKER: From what the defense attorneys explained to us, they believe the ministry of the interior is very much against them and may, in fact--they say--be implicated in the kidnap and killing of Mr. Janabi.

ELLIOTT: Who was the lawyer that was killed this week. The trial is now in recess until November 28th. Do you think it will be safe to resume the proceedings then given this murder?

Mr. DICKER: I think it's imperative for the tribunal, for the Iraqi government and its US advisories to meet their responsibilities in seeing that proper protection is available to all of those participating in these proceedings, not only judges and prosecutors, but also the defense teams.

ELLIOTT: Have any of them said in these past couple of days what their plans are? Are they afraid to continue defending these men?

Mr. DICKER: Well, we understood from several defense attorneys that they are planning to boycott the proceedings until their demands were met. They certainly are concerned for their well-being and the well-being of their family. So they want to identify their own security and have the authorities equip, arm and properly license them to carry out those functions.

ELLIOTT: Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch is observing the trial of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

Thanks very much.

Mr. DICKER: Good to be with you.

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