Ziad al-Khasawna, who was speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Monday, also demanded that occupying nations pay compensation to the Iraqi people

His arrival for a weeklong visit to Japan coincided with the announcement in Baghdad that the trials for the first five members of Hussein's inner circle will start in about mid-April and will include the former Iraqi president's half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti.

The five men are to appear in court in connection with the alleged killing of 143 residents of the village of Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982.

"According to international law, Saddam Hussein and his government are still the legitimate leadership of Iraq and everything that has happened since the start of the occupation is illegal," al-Khasawna said.

'Zionist way'

The reason behind the invasion of Iraq was the "Zionist way of thinking" that required the complete destruction of the country and its leader - including its museums, ministries, archives and treasures - in an effort to end a civilisation that stretches back more than 8000 years to ensure there is no future threat to Israel.

Al-Khasawna: Now is the time
for human rights to be defended

"I believe Japan has a great civilisation, has made many scientific achievements and is an open-minded nation," he said.

"I trust the humanity of the Japanese people means that they support the cause of free people all over the world.

"Now is the time for human rights to be defended."

Al-Khasawna heads an Amann-based team of 20 unpaid lawyers from around the world, including the United States and France, and about 2000 volunteers called the Defence and Support Committee of President Saddam Hussein, His Comrades and All Prisoners of War and Detainees in Iraq.

"All Arabic people remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and look to Japan as a leading nation in the world," he said.

'We hate war'

Al-Khasawna added: "We hate war and I hope to have meetings here with Japanese people to explain and get help so that our women and children are no longer killed in Iraq."

Despite being the head of Hussein's legal team, al-Khasawna has not been allowed by the US military authorities to meet his client, although a colleague met the deposed Iraqi leader in November last year.

"Because Saddam Hussein and his comrades tried to liberate Palestine,
this is their punishment"

Ziad al-Khasawna,
Saddam Hussein's lawyer

Hussein is reportedly in good health, despite being held in a small cell and not permitted to listen to the radio, watch television or read newspapers.

He also has not been allowed to receive personal items from his family and has only been given four "of the millions of letters" that have been sent to him. Yet, al-Khasawna's colleague says he remains in good spirits.

The defence team, however, has been frustrated at not being able to do its job because of the occupation authorities' restrictions, the vast scale of the accusations against Hussein and the inability to provide a fair trial.

Law of power

"The oppression of Iraq is not based on any international law but was made under the pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," al-Khasawna said.

US forces captured Hussein near
Tikrit on 13 December 2003

"Iraq confirmed it had no weapons of mass destruction and none have been found, so that means that what is going on there now is the law of power, not the power of law."

He added that as fellow Asians, the Iraqi people bear no ill-will towards the Japanese - even though members of the Self-Defence Forces are currently stationed in the southern city of Samawa - and suggested that an administration that is currently oppressing Iraq could turn on another country in the future, and that could include Japan.

"I tell you sincerely that as long as the Zionists occupy part of Palestine, the Middle East will never be a peaceful area," he said. "Because Saddam Hussein and his comrades tried to liberate Palestine, this is their punishment."