Saddam Hussein's Lawyer Aims for Bush

Prawn salad and occupation politics with the dictator's defense attorney


The Iraqi Special Tribunal, as the war crimes panel is called, has been wrapped in controversy almost from the first, tarred by the same charges of illegitimacy that have dogged the government of Iraqi interim prime minister Ayad Allawi. Critics say the strong involvement of the U.S. in both Hussein's capture and imprisonment, and in the training of prosecutors and judges for the tribunal, compromises the court's fairness. The U.S. has also paid for the tribunal's 2004-5 budget.

Doebbler has said that he favors an international tribunal for Hussein, saying it's unlikely his client would get a fair trial in Iraq. This is a messy political topic. In Iraq, as in countries like Rwanda that witnessed mass atrocities, there is frequently a desire, especially by victims' families, for physical proximity to justice.

December 17, 2004: One of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers, Curtis Doebbler, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown
photo: Jay Muhlin
December 17, 2004: One of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers, Curtis Doebbler, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown

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Related:

  • Read Kareem Fahim's blog, Winning an Earthquake.
  • "I certainly recognize the argument . . . for individual aspirations in the country," said Doebbler. "To me the overriding aspect is that international human rights law be respected, and international humanitarian law. That might require an imperfect form of redress or closure for individuals in a country."

    Michael Scharf, a professor at Case School of Law who is helping to train the Iraqi tribunal's judges, said that while the court isn't ideal, none of the proposed alternatives would work either. In a phone interview, he called the judges he had met so far "bright, quick, and enthusiastic," and said they were "ideal law students." Scharf also said he believed that the U.S. officials involved in preparing the court are committed to fairness.

    Still, Scharf, who 10 months ago wrote that the tribunal risked being seen as a "puppet of the Occupying Power," admitted that having the tribunal's judges be selected by longtime Hussein critic Salem Chalabi, with help from the U.S. and other organizations, didn't help perceptions of bias.

    After Scharf wrote an editorial in the December 19th Washington Post arguing that the war trials in Iraq could be fair, he participated in an online discussion with readers. Doebbler joined in.

    "Rather than debate your many wrong or misleading statements online, I would like to invite you to debate me in person," Doebbler wrote, typing fast. "Maybe The Washignton Post would even be willing to host such a debate."

    "I would enjoy a public debate with you," Scharf fired back. "By the way, you spelled Washington wrong."

    It is not clear how important Doebbler's role is to Hussein's legal defense. Doebbler would only say that all the members of the legal team are in contact with each other, though he did hint that Hussein may not even know he has an American lawyer.

    "Unless we're willing to go back 100 or 200 years, it is crucial that we show some respect for the rule of law, regardless of who is on trial today or tomorrow," he said. "This is something that affects everyone, our children and our grandchildren. That is what's on trial here."

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