Sympathy for the devil's lawyer

You'd probably need an electron microscope to measure the level of sympathy in the American public engendered by the murder of yet another of Saddam Hussein's attorneys. Khamis al-Obaidi, a name virtually known here in the U.S., eschewed the courtroom histrionics of Saddam's trial and defied the threat of violence.

"If we withdraw out of fear it will not be a shame for us as lawyers but for the entire Iraqi judicial system," he told Reuters earlier this month.

"The only weapon we have is praying to God to protect us from being killed," said Obaidi, a member of the minority Sunni Arab community dominant under Saddam.

Not nearly strong enough, that weapon, but he had little else. For months, Saddam's defense team has pleaded in vain for greater security. Eleven hundred attorneys - most of them charged with research and preparing legal briefs - walked off the defense team following the murder of two of their colleagues back in November. Following Obaidi's execution, defense team member Bushra al-Khalil charged the U.S. with failure to provide protection.

She said the Americans bore responsibility for al-Obeidi's death because they decided to stop providing protection for defense lawyers. The U.S. has denied this.

''Lifting the security of the defense team was an introduction to assassinations,'' al-Khalil told The Associated Press.

The hands stained with Obaidi's blood almost certainly belong to revenge-minded Shi'a, but as with all other aspects of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, culpability in a broader sense is shared by the Bush administration. The determination of the White House to have Saddam's trial held in the center of a nation-wide war zone instead of in an international tribunal invited the tactics of murder and intimidation we've seen throughout the course of the Al-Dujail trial. The rationale of the Bush administration, as espoused by Regime Crimes Liaison Christopher Reid, sounds thin indeed in the wake of Obaidi's murder:

Under international law, a national court is preferable to an international tribunal, so long as the national court is willing and able to conduct the trials. An international court might feel to the Iraqi people as the world punishing Iraq, rather than like victims seeking justice from the perpetrators. And an international court would not be as accessible to the Iraqi people, and would not be able to help Iraq deal with its past or promote the rule of law. Right now the United States is providing the bulk of international assistance, but the trials are clearly an Iraqi process.

I guess that if "accessibility" means a few lawyers die - and that justice even for the devil is held hostage to violence - it's a small price to pay.

It does make for a peculiar lesson in law and order, however.

(Brought to you by the miracle of cross-posting...)

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