Monday, July 03, 2006

What? Right to Legal Representation?

A couple of days before I travelled out of Baghdad, the third defense lawyer in Saddam's case was killed. In the US, we take it for face value that defendents have a right to legal representation, that they are innocent until proven guilty. We also take it for face value that a lawyer representing a known criminal is not himself guilty of the crimes of his defendents. The same is not true in Baghdad.

I was reading a post by Iraqi blogger, Ishtar, on the murder of Khamis Al-Ubaidi, one of Saddam's defense lawyers. His wife told her of his murder:
We were at home, Khamis was in his bed, when more than 15 armed man stormed our house at 7 am, wearing civil uniform and grabbed Khamis from his bed. I asked them who are you? They told me “we are the security of the Ministry of Interior.”
Did khamis tell you anything before he leaves?
They did not let him say a word but they turned to me and said “ We warn you and any member of his family to go to the forensic department and take his body, all of you will be killed.” All I want now is to take Khamis body and leave with my three kids.

Ishtar goes on to write:
Khamis body later on found in Sader city, tortured severely, an eye witness from the city itself said “ Khamis body was on the ground, any one passes by give it a bullet among shouts of condemnation for any person defends Saddam.”

In another article, I read, "This is the fate of those who defend Saddam Hussein," said an onlooker who was among those who had gathered at the police station where his body was brought.
Another man in the crowd said: "Let Saddam save him now if he can."

This is the same mentality that I met with when I mentioned the killing of the first Saddam lawyer to my cleaning lady back in October of 2005. Um Majid is a Shiite lady married to a Sunni, living in the predominately Shiite Sadr City. When I mentioned to her the killing of the 'poor lawyer' she surprised me with her statement that he deserved it for defending the criminal Saddam. I started explaining to her that he was innocent of Saddam's crimes, and perhaps even against Saddam's actions. But as a lawyer, he was giving this man his right to legal representation.
Um Majid went off on all the crimes that Saddam committed against her own district of Sadr City. I realized that I was at a dead end, but it took me off guard. I did not think that I would have to convince my cleaning lady of the lawyer's innocence. I did not think that others, other than his killers, thought his blood was okay to spill, just because he was defending Saddam. But apparently from these other articles, this is a predominate thought held by those personally hurt by Saddam's regime. I just hope that any other lawyers living in the 'Red Zone' do decide to move into a more secure area, for their own safety.


Magda said...

I think this just goes to show that this whole show of a trial is just that a show, it would have been more honest to allow the lynching of Saddam by the mob baying for his blood. If anyone genuinely believed in the sanctity of the judicial process the choices were either to try him elsewhere or to wait until such a time as the situation in the country was under some sort of control, and where people doing there jobs be that a defence lawyer, a university dean or a member of parliament could do their job safe in the knowledge that did not do so at the risk of being murdered

Arthur Joel Katz said...

One of the stated war aims of the Bush administration, now that the WMDs turned out to be a phony, is to bring democracy to Iraq. I have always thought that was a fairly hopeless goal as the Iraqis, along with most of the middle eastern countries, have no preparation for democracy. In 1789, for example, when our constitution was adopted along with the Bill of Rights, there had been a long history of equal justice, of representative democracy, of freedom of speech and the press, etc. I wonder whether you think I am too pesimistic.
Commenting on magda's post, it is of course a show trial but that is only because of the need of the Iraqi government to satisfy rather naive American concepts about how the Iraqis should emulate the US. In most states in the Middle East, somebody like Saadam would simply be tortured to death without trial. I don't say that is a good thing; merely reality.

Fatima said...

Hey joel and magda,
you guys make some good points. perhaps the country is not ready for a fair trial for Saddam. Should he have been paraded through the streets of Baghdad and Iraq instead? I don't know.