Saddam defense draws colorful cast of characters.

Even for a former dictator with the quirky tastes of Saddam Hussein, it amounts to something of a motley legal defense team.

Among those who will defend the overthrown president when he goes on trial for war crimes are a former U.S. attorney general, a former French foreign minister who once represented Picasso, and a little known contracts lawyer from Jordan.

After 20 months in captivity, Saddam was formally charged by Iraq's special tribunal last week. He will be tried in connection with the killings of around 150 people in a remote Iraqi village following a failed 1982 assassination attempt.

A trial date is due to be set in the coming days. If found guilty, Saddam could be put to death by hanging.

Iraq's government is already gearing up for the event, with state-run television showing raw video footage of some of the crimes the former regime is accused of, including the slaughter of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims after the 1991 Gulf War.

At the same time, the defense and prosecution teams are warming up for a courtroom showdown that is likely to attract huge international attention and produce no shortage of drama.

Officially, Saddam has registered four lawyers, according to officials close to the special tribunal, but an international team of 20-25 has also been retained by his family and will aide his defense, according to Issam Ghazzawi, one of the team.

Ghazzawi, a Jordanian who specializes in contracts law but who has also fought criminal cases, is joined by Roland Dumas, a colorful octogenarian who served as France's foreign minister from 1988-93 and who was once head of its constitutional court.

Dumas, who during his career acted as executor of Pablo Picasso's estate, was also famously implicated and then cleared in one of France's biggest corruption scandals.

Dumas told Reuters this week that he intended to travel to Baghdad to be in court to help defend Saddam, but said it was not yet clear when the trial would begin.

"We haven't been told anything. We don't know who the prosecutor will be and we don't know the terms of the charges. We are being kept in the dark," he said by phone from France.

Former U.S. Attorney General

Also on the Saddam defense team is Ramsey Clark, the U.S. attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.

Since then, Clark's career has taken various twists and turns and he has involved himself in several high-profile human and civil rights cases.

He has advised, among others, David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidian religious sect who died with 75 followers when U.S. federal agents stormed their compound in Waco, Texas in 1993.

Clark was not reachable for comment on Thursday, but has described the war that overthrew Saddam as illegal, and indicated he would join the defense in Baghdad.

So far, the only lawyer to appear with Saddam, according to officials with the special tribunal, has been Khaleel al-Dulaime, an Iraqi who is expected to lead the defense.

Ghazzawi would not discuss specific defense strategies, but said the team would likely file motions questioning the legality of the process and calling for the trial to be held abroad.

"You can submit a motion for a dismissal on various grounds, including the illegality of everything," he said.

Ghazzawi dismisses suggestions he may be fighting a losing cause, and says that as well as the 20-25 main defense team members, there are 2,500 lawyers around the world helping out.

Sometimes even other lawyers can't tell who exactly is defending Saddam.

One person who has appeared frequently on television saying he is one of Saddam's lawyers is Anglo-Italian Giovanni di Stefano, who once worked on behalf of Slobodan Milosevic.

Asked about Di Stefano's role, Ghazzawi was dismissive.

"I don't know about him. He's not on the main team."

[Source: By Luke Baker, Reuters, Baghdad, 21Jul05]

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