Key attorneys mounting the defense of Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants refused to appear in court Monday for closing arguments, setting the stage for more chaos in what has already been a tumultuous trial.
Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel Rahman named court-appointed lawyers to represent the defendants in the absence of their attorneys.
Abdel Rahman also barred Hussein and other defendants from entering the courtroom as a group, insisting that each defendant come alone before the magistrate "in order to make sure that the trial will go on in a quiet and orderly way" while the other accused watch the proceedings on television.
Hussein and several codefendants face possible death sentences for charges stemming from the alleged 1982 slayings of 148 Shiites from the village of Dujayl after a failed assassination attempt against the then-president. Final defense arguments began Monday with statements in support of two minor defendants whose lawyers attended the session.
Monday's courtroom scene amounted to defendants Ali Dayih Ali and Mohammed Ali Azzawi, each only with their lawyers in court, making lengthy pleas for acquittal on charges of crimes against humanity.
But most of the lawyers for the heavy-hitters, including Hussein, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim Hasan and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, stayed not only out of the courtroom but away from Iraq as the final defense arguments began in the first criminal case regarding the alleged crimes of Hussein's administration.
With three defense attorneys already shot to death, including last month Hussein's No. 2 lawyer, Khamis Ubaidi, the lawyers argue that the country is too dangerous for the trial.
"After Khamis Ubaidi was killed I became afraid," said Amin Adib, an Egyptian lawyer on the defense team, in a phone conversation from his Cairo home. "I have three kids and a wife. Not only my wife but my whole family insists that I not go to Baghdad."
But attorneys representing Hussein and Hasan said they refused to attend because the trial was stacked against them.
"We are asserting our defendants' rights," said Najib Nuaimi, a former Qatari justice minister.
"The court doesn't respect international law," he said in a phone conversation from the U.S., where he is visiting. "They don't respect international standards. They are arresting our witnesses. They've inhibited our ability to operate a defense."
Court officials took their own swipe at the boycotting defense attorneys, urging them to act in the best interests of their clients. The officials said they had offered defense attorneys the same protection provided to prosecutors and judges, who live and work largely in Baghdad's U.S.-protected Green Zone.
"The most important duty of the lawyer is to provide legal counsel for his clients," Raid Juhi, the Iraqi High Tribunal's chief investigative judge, told reporters gathered in the courtroom. "And of course, the most important duty is to attend the courthouse to do his job."
But the defense attorneys argue that entering the court's security bubble abrogates their independence and compromises their integrity. They say they're ready to defend their clients under better security conditions.
Proceedings are to resume today with two more minor defendants.
Monday's defendants played bit roles in the Dujayl incidents, according to the prosecution. The prosecutor, in his closing arguments, had already urged the judge to let Azzawi go free.
"I am a man of honor and well-raised, from a good origin, and it would not suit me to do such acts," Azzawi said.
Dayih allegedly guided security forces through the town as they arrested suspects.
His lawyer, who was unnamed for security reasons, said his client was the son of Dujayl's mukhtar, or sheriff, who traditionally would escort state officials as they conducted arrests and searches to ensure property was not stolen or women harassed.
He rejected the notion that any of the allegations against his client amounted to crimes against humanity.