The murder of a lawyer acting for one of Saddam Hussein's codefendants has led to renewed calls for the former president's trial to be moved abroad, even as Iraq's current government insists he'll be tried inside the country and nowhere else.
The likelihood of a change of venue or extended delays is slim, with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari insisting the trial will not be moved and suggesting the murder was organized by supporters of Mr. Hussein to discredit the court.
The murdered lawyer, Sadoun al-Janabi, was representing Awad Hamed al-Bandar, who was head of Hussein's Revolutionary Court and had signed death warrants on many of the former president's political opponents. Mr. Janabi was dragged from his Baghdad office Friday by men who witnesses said were wearing police uniforms, and then executed on the street.
The Iraqi Bar Association on Sunday urged lawyers not to work on the Hussein trial until Janabi's murder is solved. But Khamees al-Ubaidi, one of Hussein's two lawyers, said he had no intention of stopping work on the case.
Mr. Ubaidi admits after the death of a "good lawyer and a friend" he is in turn very worried about his own life. "I leave it in God's hands,'' he says. "My job requires me to defend any accused man, and I couldn't accept backing down now."
Ubaidi says he doesn't think a fair trial is possible in Iraq's current security environment, laughing that he - like everyone else at the court - was not allowed to bring in his own pens or pads of paper. He says the defense will continue to insist on moving the trial abroad.
Over the weekend, Human Rights Watch also said it was worried about physical danger threatening a fair trial, but stopped short of calling for a move.
"We are gravely concerned that this killing will have a chilling effect on the willingness of competent lawyers to vigorously defend the accused in these cases. Such an outcome will seriously undermine the ability of the court to provide a fair trial,'' Richard Dicker, the director of the group's international justice program, said in a statement. The tribunal should "take immediate steps to ensure the security and safety of defense counsel and defense witnesses, and their families."
Until now, the lawyers for Hussein and his seven codefendants in the trial for the murder of at least 140 villages - most Shiite - in the town of Dujail in 1982 have refused government or US military protection. But now, Ubaidi says he and others are considering "working something out" with US authorities.
While he's critical of almost everything involved in the trial set-up - from the law that governs it, which he calls unconstitutional, to the fact that some witnesses will be able to testify in semi-anonymity - he says the US has been fair so far in allowing them access to their client. He also called senior judge Rizgar Mohammed Ameen, an ethnic Kurd, an "excellent choice" based on his performance so far.
But the murder of a lawyer is probably going to add an extra layer of security around a trial that has had a historically unprecedented amount of security so far, and call into question its fairness.
Michael Scharf, director of the international law center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says that while holding a trial in such a dangerous environment is "far from ideal" that shouldn't compromise holding a fair and just trial.
"It's obviously an extraordinary situation, but the closest situation to this would have been Colombia with the trials of the drug-trafficking cartels where people were saying how can we hold fair trials when they're kidnapping judges and assassinating witnesses,'' says Mr. Scharf.
"The attitude there was that intimidation wasn't going to stop until the trials had been gone through, and I think that's right in this case."
The trial on the Dujail charges has special significance because of Hussein's co-defendant Bandar, says Scharf.
Bandar ordered some of the villagers, accused of complicity in an assassination attempt against Hussein, executed without a trial.
Scharf says it's only the second time in history that a judge has been held accountable for "legalizing" atrocities.
"The importance of Dujail is Bandar, he's the most important of all the defendants, even more than Saddam Hussein,'' says Mr. Scharf. "It's about people being rounded up and allegedly killed on a judicial order."
That in some ways puts Hussein's perverted judicial system on trial as much as Iraq's former dictator himself, and is yet another reason while the fairness of this trial as seen as so crucial by proponents of international justice."