Motion to Duck

Serving on Saddam’s defense team is getting to be as dangerous as playing defense on Uday’s soccer team. Yesterday, three masked gunmen in an Opel shot up a car carrying two defense team lawyers as it rolled through a mostly-Sunni neighborhood west of Baghdad, killing one (who representing Saddam’s brother) and wounding another. It was the second killing of a legal team member in three weeks. Clearly, this is an embarrassment to Iraqis and Americans alike, but not a reason to move the trial out of Iraq.

Iraq has been a sovereign nation for more than 16 months, so claims that U.S. forces are responsible for a safe trial don’t carry much weight. Second, the defense team has reportedly refused repeated offers of security from the Interior Ministry (the thugs who kidnapped the first lawyer in October were posing as Interior Ministry employees). They have also refused offers to live in the guarded, fortified, and relatively safe Green Zone in Baghdad. Time magazine reported that the defense team has made unreasonable demands for 15 bodyguards each (of their own choosing). Gee, why wouldn’t a judge want a dictator’s lawyers to have a huge, hostile, and armed militia?

Yes, it’s sad and awful that his lawyers are getting killed, as well as embarrassing. These things can’t be diminished. However, the defense team bears some responsibility for taking steps to protect themselves. Iraqis deserve a trial of Saddam and his flunkies by Iraqis, and if defense lawyers need more time, they should ask for it. But if they decide not show up for the next scheduled hearing on November 28, as they’ve threatened, look for Iraqi judges to remove them — from the case, I mean.