Jordanian lawyer wants to defend Saddam

A Jordanian lawyer said he has been appointed to defend Saddam Hussein by the former dictator's wife, but U.S. authorities have not responded to his request to meet the fallen leader.

Officials in Iraq's U.S.-appointed interim administration say no defense lawyer has yet been appointed to represent Saddam, who was captured December 13 and is being held at an undisclosed location.

Jordanian lawyer Mohammad Rashdan said Sunday he considers Saddam Iraq's "legitimate president."

"We tried to contact the American administration several times to allow us to meet with Mr. Saddam Hussein, but there was no response at all," Rashdan told The Associated Press.

If allowed to defend Saddam, "my main argument will be the legitimacy of Iraq's constitution under Saddam Hussein, who is Iraq's legitimate president," Rashdan said.

He said Iraq's interim constitution adopted under the U.S.-led occupation is illegitimate, as well as a court that the U.S.-picked Governing Council said it is setting up to try Saddam.

Rashdan said he has heard from some 1,500 attorneys from across the Arab world -- mainly Egypt and Jordan -- as well as in France, Switzerland and Britain who want to help defend Saddam.

Rashdan said the list did not include Jacques Vergès, a French lawyer who claims to be representing Saddam at his family's request.

Rashdan said that days after Saddam's capture, Saddam's wife Sajida Khairallah Telfah asked him to represent the Iraqi prisoner in court when his trial opens.

He declined to say how he received the request, if he had met Telfah or knew where she was.

Saddam's two eldest daughters, Raghad and Rana, who have been in seclusion in Jordan since late July, have said in television interviews that their mother had refused to join them in the kingdom. Telfah is believed to be in Qatar.

The U.S. Justice Department has been gathering evidence for a war crimes case against Saddam, while other international groups have been sifting through the mass graves where U.S. officials say 300,000 victims of Saddam's regime were buried.

Iraqi leaders announced last week they had set up a tribunal of judges and prosecutors to try Saddam and other members of his regime. No date has been set for a trial, and charges have not yet been determined.

Salem Chalabi, general director of the tribunal, told CNN Wednesday that under Iraqi law, the lead attorney needs to be Iraqi, but that other members of the team could come from other countries.

Chalabi told CNN that Jordanian lawyers seeking to represent Saddam have sent letters to the Iraqi Governing Council. "It is still up in the air," Chalabi said.

While denunciations of the U.S. invasion are common, few Arab voices have been raised in support of Saddam since he was toppled and discussion of the brutality of his regime and his unpopularity among many Iraqis began to appear in the Arab media.

But Rashdan, well-known in Jordan as an Arab nationalist with ties to Saddam's fiercely nationalist Baath party, says Arabs must support an Arab leader ousted by foreign, particularly American, force.

[Source: Associated Press, Amman, Jordan, 26Apr04]

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