Saddam seeks trial outside Iraq.

Lawyers acting for Saddam Hussein have begun legal moves aimed at forcing the American-led coalition to put him on trial outside Iraq. They argue that any proceedings in the country he ruled for 24 years would be prejudiced against him.

In an interview last week, Ziad al-Khasawneh, head of a committee of Lawyers set up to defend Saddam, said a writ of habeas corpus had been lodged in America.

The intention, he said, was to remove Saddam from Iraq and prevent him from being forced to appear before the Iraqi Special Tribunal, established by the American-led administration last December to try members of the former regime.

"This may remove Saddam from the game of handing him to the Iraqis who are hostile to him," said Khasawneh.

A writ of habeas corpus (literally "you may have the body") requires an inmate to be brought before a court so that it can be determined whether or not he is lawfully detained. If granted in Saddam's case, it would ensure that he was taken out of Iraq "for his protection", Khasawneh said.

During the interview over two days at his office in Amman, Khasawneh, who has practised law for 30 years, spoke of his admiration for Saddam. He has worked on the case for a year and a half and said that his appointment as head of the defence committee had the blessing of the former president and Raghad, his eldest daughter.

"This is not a pure defence for Saddam but it is a defence of Iraq and in fact a defence of the entire world," Khasawneh said as his mobile phone rang repeatedly.

"When a giant like the USA strikes against one country, then it can at any time strike against any other country.

What happened in Iraq sets a dangerous precedent -one which is also linked to the issue of human rights in general."

The committee is supported by 2,500 Lawyers, Arabs and non-Arabs alike. The overwhelming majority work unpaid. Of these, 1,040 are Iraqis and 800 are Jordanian.

There are also large contingents from Yemen, Sudan and Libya, including Colonel Muammar Gadaffi's daughter Aisha. Others come from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Malaysia, Britain, France and America.

Among the Americans are Curtis Doebbler, 43, an academic and former legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority who has represented some of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and William Ramsey Clark, 77, attorney-general from 1967-9 under President Lyndon B Johnson.

Clark, a veteran human rights campaigner, has provided legal counsel and advice to several figures in conflict with western governments, including Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian leader.

"The special court in Iraq was created by the Iraqi governing council, which is nothing more than a creation of the US military occupation and has no authority in law as a criminal court," Clark declared on joining the committee this year.

He has long maintained that Saddam was never as brutal as claimed in the western media.

Saddam's defence committee is being directed by Raghad. Also backing the team are Roland Dumas, the former French foreign minister, Ahmed Ben Bella, the former Algerian president, and Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia.

The prosecution's case against Saddam is expected to centre on a dozen or so documented incidents of killings and human rights abuses perpetrated by his regime. One of the most damning concerns a massacre at Dujail, 40 miles north of Baghdad, in July 1982 when several hundred people were executed in cold blood in reprisal for a botched assassination attempt against Saddam.

Other charges are likely to relate to the brutal suppression of Kurdish and Shi'ite uprisings, the killings of rival politicians and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Saddam's Lawyers are preparing to turn the tables on America and Britain by challenging the allied invasion and occupation as illegal and unjustified because no weapons of mass destruction have been found and no link has been established between his regime and international terrorism by groups such as Al-Qaeda.

They argue that Saddam should not be facing trial in the first place, since the country's former constitution should still apply. Article 40 stipulates that the president cannot be put on trial without permission of the Revolutionary Council, the highest body in Saddam's former ruling Ba'ath party.

According to Khasawneh, article 58 of the same document grants the president power to take whatever measures he deems necessary to protect the nation's security.

This, he claims, provides immunity from charges over the Dujail and other massacres. Khasawneh complained that the tribunal had failed to communicate with the defence team. He and his colleagues had not seen a single document from the "so-called tons of paperwork, evidence, statements and affidavits collected by the prosecution", he said, making it highly unlikely that the trial could take place within a few months as predicted.

"We have not received any official information about the charges against Saddam," he said. Khasawneh said that Saddam had undergone a hernia operation last October without the consent of his family members and defence team, which he claimed was in breach of the Geneva conventions.

"Since a prisoner is denied his freedom, that means he is also denied his consent, and as such any serious medical decisions involving surgery have to be notified to his family and defence team," he argued.

Despite frequent requests from others, only one lawyer, Khalil al-Duleimi, an Iraqi, has so far been allowed to visit Saddam and in three meetings has briefed him on the strategy of his defence team.

Khasawneh said Saddam told the Iraqi lawyer that he had launched the resistance on the eve of the fall of Baghdad after learning that some of his military commanders had betrayed him. "He told the remaining military to close a chapter and open a new one, that of the resistance," Khasawneh said.

"He strongly believes the resistance attacks will intensify in the coming months."

[Source: By Hala Jaber and Ali Rifat Amman, The Sunday Times, London, UK, 03Jul05]

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