Iraqi who tossed shoes due before judge
Journalist's case could head to criminal court
BAGHDAD - The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President Bush was expected to appear before a judge today in a first step of a complex legal process that could end in a criminal trial, a government official and the reporter's brother said.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi has been in custody since Sunday, when he gained folk hero status across the Arab world by throwing both shoes at Bush during a news conference. Bush ducked twice during the bizarre assault and was not injured.
Despite widespread sympathy for his act across the region, Iraqi authorities sent the case to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, which handles security and terrorism cases.
An investigative judge will review the evidence and decide whether Zeidi should stand trial - a process that could take months. Iraq officials have recommended charging him with insulting a foreign leader, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment or a small fine.
But investigative judges have sweeping powers under Iraqi law to amend and add charges - or even dismiss the case. If the judge finds enough evidence to warrant prosecution, a judicial panel will appoint three judges to hear the case and set a trial date.
Shi'ite lawmaker Bahaa al-Araji said he expected Zeidi, who's in his late 20s, to be released on bail in the next few days while the investigative judge considers the case.
Al-Baghdadia television, his employer, said Zeidi would be represented by Dhiaa Saadi, head of the Iraqi lawyers' association.
The head of Jordan's Bar Association, Saleh Armouti, said scores of lawyers have volunteered to help defend Zeidi. The association is dominated by hard-line Muslims and leftists critical of the 2003 US-led invasion.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was standing beside Bush when the shoe attack occurred, issued no statement about how it planned to pursue the case.
Zeidi's brother, Maitham, said he spoke with the reporter by telephone yesterday and was told that he expected to be in court this morning.
Maitham al-Zeidi also said his brother sounded fit, despite claims by another brother that he had suffered a severe beating after being grabbed by Iraqi security at the Sunday press conference.
"Muntadhar has a broken leg, cracked ribs, some injuries under his eye, and his leg is also hurting him," Zeidi's brother Dhargham told The Associated Press. "He was taken to the hospital today around noon."
Dhargham said his information came from a friend who works as a security guard in the Green Zone where the shoe-throwing incident took place.
Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf also denied reports that Zeidi had been badly injured.
"The rumors about al-Zeidi being injured or being hurt are baseless," Khalaf told the AP. "You can check that when you see him in the criminal court tomorrow morning."
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it was up to Iraqi leaders to decide whether punishment is appropriate for Zeidi.
"The president believes that Iraq is a sovereign country, a democratic country, and they will have a process that they follow on this," said Perino, who suffered an eye injury in the fracas that followed the assault. "The president harbors no hard feelings about the incident."
The United States set up the Central Criminal Court after the 2003 invasion as the flagship tribunal, granting it nationwide jurisdiction specializing in terrorism cases. However, the court has been widely criticized for failing to meet international standards.
In a report released Monday, Human Rights Watch said defendants have been held for up to two years without a hearing and that defense attorneys often have little or no access to their clients or their case files before hearings.
"Iraqis who come before this court cannot expect justice," said Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch. He said security problems, lack of resources and heavy caseloads undermine "any notion that the central court is meeting basic fair trial standards."