Defence team meets Saddam, may end trial boycott
AMMAN, Feb 26: Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer said he met the former Iraqi leader today, two days before his trial resumes, adding the defence counsel may end a boycott of the hearings.
Khalil Dulaimi told Reuters by telephone from Baghdad he met Saddam on his own for seven hours where they discussed the recent showdown between the defence and the court but declined to say whether the legal counsel would attend Tuesday's session.
''I met the president and we extensively discussed all the issues that relate to the court and its relationship with the defence team and defence strategy,'' Dulaimi said.
''The president urged the court to hold a fair trial.'' Dulaimi said earlier in an interview in neighbouring Jordan before departing for Baghdad that new Kurdish chief judge Raouf Abdel Rahman had lifted a ban on the lawyers meeting Saddam.
''The chief judge appears to have become more lenient after our withdrawal,'' said Dulaimi, who criticised the court-appointed counsel named after the defence team walked out of the trial last month.
''Maybe he feels the appointed lawyers are illegal and damage the credibility of the trial,'' he said.
Court officials were not immediately available for comment.
The four-month-old trial of Saddam and seven others for crimes against humanity has been buffeted by the killing of two defence lawyers and accusations of political bias and was thrown into confusion two months ago when the previous chief judge quit complaining of government interference.
Observers have surmised Abdel Rahman may be under pressure to avoid similar criticism from U.S. and Iraqi leaders that he is being too lenient in giving Saddam time to speak.
It was his efforts to silence such tirades that prompted Saddam and other defendants to be absent from court for two sessions and provoked the defence team to walk out.
Sectarian violence over the past few days has led to a curfew on Baghdad that may disrupt Tuesday's hearing after a two-week adjournment.
Saddam, whose Sunni-led government oppressed majority Shi'ites and ethnic Kurds for decades, could raise the present disorder in his defence; he has previously justified violence as a means of holding together Iraq's disparate communities.
Dulaimi, who said Saddam insisted on his right to have the defence of his choice, was tightlipped about whether Saddam was maintaining a hunger strike that he told the court he had begun around Feb. 11.
But he said conciliatory signals coming from the court could end the boycott and defence demands that the judge be replaced.
''The chief judge has personally given promises to meet our demands in the event of attending the Tuesday session,'' he said.
Saddam's defence team has accused Abdel Rahman of bias and had said it would not return to court until the judge resigns.
Dulaimi said they would still present a formal case against Abdel Rahman on grounds that this Kurdish background meant it was difficult for him to show impartiality.
Abdel Rahman set up organisations to help his hometown of Halabja recover from a gas attack attributed to Saddam's forces in 1988, which killed 5,000 people, including his relatives.
Saddam is expected to face charges of genocide in the Halabja case.
The court also barred foreign lawyers from the defence team, including Jordanian bar association head Saleh Armouti and U.S.
human rights lawyer Curtis Doebbler, from attending future sessions on grounds their legal papers were incomplete.
Dulaimi called it a violation of defence rights and an effort to weaken the defence, which has also lined up ''hundreds of witnesses to testify'' in the case of 148 Shi'ite men killed after an attempt to kill Saddam in the town of Dujail in 1982.