WASHINGTON -- Attorney Curtis F.J. Doebbler has made an unusual appeal to the Supreme Court on behalf of an unlikely client -- Saddam Hussein.
Doebbler, the lone American on the ousted dictator's legal team, wants the high court to declare the detention of the ousted Iraqi president unconstitutional.
The long-shot legal maneuver comes as Hussein's lawyers await the opportunity to meet with their client and learn what charges he will face in a war crimes trial by Iraq's new government. He could face the death penalty.
"Even the people we dislike the most have a right to a fair trial," said Doebbler, who volunteered his services on the 20-member team with lawyers from Belgium, Britain, France, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and Tunisia.
Doebbler said his clients over the past decade have received little media attention. They have included Ethiopian refugees, as well as displaced people and political activists in Sudan, he said.
His work for his latest client has earned him threats but not deterred him, he told reporters Thursday. "Whether it's a former president or whether it's a refugee, individuals have the same basic human rights," he said.
Doebbler has been critical of the United States' invasion of Iraq.
In an article on his website, he wrote: "The world's most powerful army is an army of cowards. They are soldiers who are willing to risk the lives of innocent civilians to protect their own. I don't know about my fellow Americans, but I don't feel very much protected by such cowards."
Paul R. Williams, an international law professor at American University, is not surprised that lawyers are taking up Hussein's defense.
"Saddam is likely to have an eclectic mix of lawyers," Williams said. "It's a peculiar thing that there will be no shortage of lawyers willing to defend Saddam for financial and philosophical reasons or self-promotion. Others will just want to write a book."
James Klimaski, a Washington lawyer who has worked with Doebbler, said the 43-year-old native of Buffalo is taking on a challenge.
"Lawyers who take unpopular cases believe in the law," he said. "Unpopular cases sometimes in history become popular cases."
US authorities have refused to let Doebbler or the other lawyers see Hussein, who was arrested in December.
Hussein is held in a US-controlled jail guarded by Americans until the Iraqis are ready to take physical custody of him. Iraq's new authorities took legal control of Hussein and 11 deputies last week.
The filing at the Supreme Court, dated Tuesday and titled "Saddam Hussein v. George W. Bush," asks the court for permission to file an indigent appeal on his behalf. But the court will have to grant special permission because the documents lack Hussein's signature vouching that he has no assets and cannot afford the filing fee.
The Supreme Court is on a three-month summer break and probably will not act on the request until the justices return to work in late September.
In paperwork at the high court, Doebbler said the detention of the 67-year-old violates multiple international laws and his constitutional Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of "life, liberty, or property without due process." He also said the war crimes tribunal planned in Iraq was neither independent nor impartial.
The Supreme Court will review those arguments only if it grants permission for the filing.
"I doubt the Supreme Court will even get that far," said Fordham Law School professor Thomas Lee, a former clerk at the court.
Doebbler had filed a brief in the Supreme Court this year encouraging it to rule in favor of legal rights of foreign terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Last week, justices decided the nearly 600 men from 42 countries held at the US prison in Cuba may use American courts to challenge their detentions.
In a dissent to that opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia warned that federal courts will have to deal with lawsuits from "around the world, challenging actions and events far away."