06/23/2006 01:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Second Chair

"Third Lawyer in Hussein Trial Is Killed" -- New York Times, June 21, 2006

Leland Shiraz, attorney-at-law, allowed himself a moment of pompous, self-congratulation. His path to the top of his profession -- a B.A. from Sunni Binghamton and a 58th percentile graduation from of Basra School of Law and Insurgency -- was hardly the fast track to success. But here he was: Sitting second chair on the Saddam Hussein defense team.

Three weeks earlier, Shiraz had been a lowly associate, spending the bulk of his time checking legal pads for plastic explosives. Now look at me, he thought, I'm a rain maker. Surely, the abduction and murders of three other attorneys on the team had greased his meteoric rise to such a lofty position, but Shiraz was nothing if not ambitious. Just that morning, he had subtly mentioned the name and address of his boss to Tariq Jarvis VII , the notorious Baathist chiropractor. It was just a matter of time before Leland Shiraz would be first chair.

In the meantime, he had a lot on his plate, including a breakfast meeting with opposing counsel. The prosecution team had also lost several attorneys and rumors were flying that they were ready to deal.

Shiraz and Saddam arrived at the meeting just after nine AM. The prosecution laid out its offer: In exchange for Saddam revealing the location of the light switch that controlled all the electricity in Baghdad, the prosecution was willing to bump the charge from Crimes Against Humanity down to Genocide One, 375 years to life on each death, served consecutively.

"Leland!" Saddam plaintively wailed, "What does this all mean?"

Leland replied, "It means they have no case. Knock it down to Mass Murder Two, 115 years served concurrently and we can talk."

The counter offer was swiftly rejected by the lead prosecutor who took a bite of a fig Danish and dropped dead. The assistant prosecutor looked at the white foam oozing from his former boss' mouth and said, "Negligent Genocide Two, 185 years and a shot at parole after 120."

Shiraz rolled his eyes: "Look, you know and I know if I pushed it, I can have the case thrown out on ex-post facto laws."

"Ex-post facto?" said the prosecutor. "What are you talking about?"

"When Mr. Hussein committed his alleged crimes, there was no law against crimes against humanity. Check the old statute under 'Perfectly Legal Crimes Against Humanity. '"

"I don't think the judge will see it that way."

"The judge died last night."

"Really? How?"

"Peacefully in his sleep after being shot 12 times in the chest and 8 times in the head."

"Who's the new judge?"


"Oh crap. He's kind of a softie. How about 125 years in the minimum security area of Abu Gharib with alternate weekend furloughs? "

Shiraz turned to his client and said, "Come on, Saddam. This guy's not a serious man. Let's get out of here."

They stood up to leave when Shiraz stopped and pulled out a piece of paper: "Oh, I nearly forgot. Here's my motion to dismiss all the evidence found in the shallow grave outside Tikrit."

Outraged, the assistant DA said, "On what grounds?"

"The grounds outside Tikrit."

"No, I meant, on what do you base your dismissal."

"Oh. The warrant specified a narrow search for weapons grade plutonium. It said nothing about human remains."

"Inevitable discovery!"

"Just try arguing that. I'll wipe the floor with you."

Truth was, Shiraz was worried about the human remains. The Iraqi Medical Examiner, Amir Suzuki, had done exhaustive research on the bones -- testing them for both anthrax residue and osteoporosis -- but could only establish that they belonged to "people who may be dead." In the new Iraqi legal system, the word "dead" carried negative connotations.

The Assistant DA said, "Give me a minute," and walked to the men's room where he was instantly killed by a either an Improvised Explosive Device. Or a Well-Rehearsed Explosive Device. Shiraz couldn't tell anymore. Either way, Saddam was overjoyed, so Shiraz took the opportunity to revisit the touchy topic of the ex-dictator's facial hair. Over a year earlier, the defense had tried to convince Saddam to shave off his mustache, claiming it could remind the jury of Joel Steinberg. With a jury composed of two Sunni's, three Shiite's and seven blacks, odds were good that someone would still be smarting over Hedda Nussbaum. But Saddam, in defiance, grew the now familiar scruffy beard.

"Look Mr. President, I hate to bring this up again but, if you were clean-shaven, you'd seem so much more likeable."

Saddam, in his customary whine, said, "Without facial hair I look like Mike Piazza."

"So?" Shiraz shot back, "the guy's a first-ballot hall-of-famer."

Saddam exhaled, a gesture he often made just before inhaling. Just then, a young man, maybe 22, entered the room. He was thin, pale and visibly shaken.

Haughtily, Shiraz said, "Who are you?"

"I'm a para-legal."

"Go on."

"How about we bump the first-degree Crimes Against Humanity down to Resisting Arrest, 450 years plus time served, suspended sentence."

Shiraz squelched a giggle. "Finally, someone I can deal with. Does Saddam have to allocute?"

"It would be nice if he admitted killing all those people."

Shiraz turned to Saddam: "What do you think?"

Saddam shrugged and said, "Sure, I love telling the story about how I killed those people. It's one of my best anecdotes."

Shiraz turned to the para-legal: "You got a deal."

Saddam's eyes widened: "Does this mean I can go back to being President?"

The para-legal shrugged and said, "You got my vote."

As the plea agreement was drawn up, Saddam turned to Shiraz: "Leland, how does Attorney General sound to you?"

Shiraz could scarcely contain his glee. If all those nebbishes on the law review could see me now...

"Awesome, Saddam. Attorney General sounds awesome."