Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  

Saddam has his legal options for defence

Even Saddam Hussein has legal options. The deposed Iraqi leader could harken back to the trials of Nazi leaders and Japanese commanders after World War II to fight expected charges of genocide and war crimes, claiming he never personally killed anyone or that he had no control over atrocities committed in his name, US defence lawyers and scholars say.

Saddam also might look to the present, and adopt the tactics of deposed Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. On trial now before a UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Milosevic has essentially thumbed his nose at the prosecutors and judges and uses the sessions to make windy speeches.

Any trial for Saddam may be a long time off, and it is not clear where or how he will be called to answer for alleged crimes dating back decades. But when the expected trial comes, Saddam can choose from a few basic legal strategies.

The first step for Saddam's defence team will be a challenge to the authority of whatever body puts him on trial, lawyers say. That attack will be easier to make if Americans are involved in organising or underwriting the trial, but a smart defence lawyer would use the same tactic to challenge even a trial conducted wholly by Iraqis, lawyers say.

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark said last week that he would be willing to provide legal counsel to the ousted Iraqi leader if he requested assistance. Clark was attorney general under President Johnson and is a staunch anti-war advocate who has met with Saddam on several occasions in the past decade.

Another strategy would be for Saddam to plead insanity or infirmity to try to head off a trial altogether, although lawyers say that seems unlikely.

Assuming there is a trial, Saddam could claim he committed no crimes, or that his actions were justified to put down insurrection or defend his country.

Or, as in the trials arising from World War II, Saddam could try to shift the blame or turn the tables on his accusers.

Adm. Karl Doenitz, commander of the German U-boat campaign, received a relatively light sentence of 10 years at the Nuremberg war crimes trial after claiming that he used the same warfighting tactics as the Allies, including failing to pick up survivors after a submarine attack. Doenitz' lawyers produced an affidavit from US Adm. Chester Nimitz to back up this claim.