Iraqi authorities found one of the lawyers representing Saddam Hussein and his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti murdered earlier today. Gunmen dressed in police uniforms abducted Khamis al-Obeidi from his home and shot him to death just prior to the launch of the defense’s final arguments in Saddam’s trial:
One of Saddam Hussein’s main lawyers was shot to death Wednesday after he was abducted from his Baghdad home by men wearing police uniforms, the third killing of a member of the former leader’s defense team since the trial started some eight months ago.
Khamis al-Obeidi, an Iraqi who represented Saddam and his half brother Barzan Ibrahim in their trial, was abducted from his house Wednesday morning, said Saddam’s top lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi. His body was found on a street near the Shiite slum of Sadr City, police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said.
Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi confirmed that al-Obeidi had been killed, although he did not provide any details. A photo of al-Obeidi provided by police showed his face, head and shoulders drenched in his own blood.
Lawyers who flocked from Western nations to join Saddam’s legal team have received plenty of justified criticism, especially Ramsey Clarke, as genocidal ambulance chasers. However, Obeidi as an Iraqi upheld one of the fundamental tenets of fair justice: independent legal representation for all defendants to ensure an acceptable result. Obeidi took the job with some expectation of fame and fortune as well as an understanding that it would make him a target. He may or may not have been a dedicated Ba’athist — I truly do not know — but in the end he opted to participate in the nascent Iraqi justice system that wants to serve the people and not a dictator, and he paid for that choice with his life.
What a shame. Obeidi had an opportunity in the days ahead to offer some kind of argument for his client that would have at least been memorable, and probably historic. After having served the trial for as long as he had, he deserved at least that much for his efforts. As it is now, we will almost certainly see a suspension in the trial while the remaining defense team regroups and while the Iraqi interior ministry changes the security arrangements.
The people who assassinated Obeidi — there is no better word — are not acting for a better Iraq. One of the toughest disciplines to acquire in the collapse of a tyranny is patience for justice. For those victimized by Saddam’s genocidal actions over four decades of rule, the temptation to take vengeance on Saddam and anyone associated with him must be almost irresistable. Having seen the Iraqi justice system used as a tool for oppression for so long — after all, that’s the entire point of the Dujail indictments — they do not trust it to deliver justice to them now.
The Iraqis will need time to accept that the new representative government will deliver the justice they need and desire. That will take patience, not just for the Iraqis but also for the West as well. We must not wash our hands of the Iraqis but redouble our efforts to ensure that this promise gets delivered.