Court said to be expecting defense lawyers to attend Saddam trial's next hearing

The court trying Saddam Hussein and seven others for a 1982 massacre of 148 Shiites expects defense lawyers to attend next week's hearing, despite their threat to boycott the trial, a U.S. official close to the proceedings said Wednesday. The official told a news briefing that the court has "standby" defense lawyers to step in if the defense team makes good on its threat to boycott the Nov. 28 hearing, the first since the trial opened Oct. 19.

The threat followed the assassination of two members of the defense team since Oct. 19. They have since demanded protection for themselves and their families, as well as a U.N. investigation into the killings.

The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the lawyers have been offered "options" to ensure their safety and that U.S. authorities have agreed to take part in an Iraqi investigation into the murders. He refused to disclose the nature of the security arrangements, but said they were similar to those provided to judges and prosecutors involved in the trial.

He said the court has been in talks with the defense team and that, based on the outcome, it expects the lawyers, including Saddam's chief attorney Khalil al-Dulaimi, to attend Monday's hearing.

Al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press Sunday that the defense team was unsure if it would attend Monday's hearing because its demands for protection have not been answered. He outlined two main demands: that the court provide 20 bodyguards of the lawyers' choosing for each of them and their families, and that an international committee be assigned to investigate the deaths of the two lawyers, Saadoun al-Janabi and Adel al-Zubeidi.

The U.S. official said that attorneys from the tribunal's Defense Counsel Office were familiar with the case and will step in if needed.

"They will be given adequate opportunity to meet their clients and the court is expected to give them that," he said.

The defendants, who face the death penalty if convicted, will have a say in who represents them, including choosing new lawyers, the official added, but they will not be allowed to delay the proceedings. Iraqi law stipulates that defendants cannot act as their own attorneys.

If the lawyers do show up Monday, the court will begin hearing complainants over several days, the official said. The proceedings will adjourn around the time of a general election slated for Dec. 15, but he could not say for how long.

The defense lawyers have consistently maintained that the tribunal trying Saddam and the others was illegitimate because it was set up under the U.S.-led occupation. Their withdrawal from the case and their replacement by court-appointed attorneys could undermine the credibility of the trial and cause delays. Politicians, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite whose family members suffered from torture and imprisonment under Saddam's regime, have made it clear that they want the trial to proceed vigorously while maintaining its transparency and due process, reports the AP. I.L.

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