Lawyers say making the case against Iraq is a question of trust

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

WASHINGTON -- When it comes to America vs. Iraq, how much evidence is enough in the courts of public opinion and diplomacy? Lawyers say this is one case they would not want to take into a court of law.

"Show me proof, not the innuendoes, not the guesses," says Cincinnati trial lawyer Martin Pinales.

Different standards may apply in the debate over Iraq than the insistence on proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal trial.

"The president doesn't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Saddam has nuclear weapons," said Andrew McBride, a former federal prosecutor in Washington.

With Iraq, lawyers and other masters of debate say, the question is ultimately one of trust -- whether Americans believe the leaders who say they have evidence of Iraqi misdeeds even if they won't show it all.

That wouldn't fly in the courtroom, but it may be the bottom line in what is essentially an American public-relations prosecution.

The United States was trying to bolster its case with a presentation of documents, photos and persuasion at the United Nations today by Secretary of State Colin Powell. He said he has strong pieces of evidence but no smoking gun.

Criminal attorneys are not sure it is fair to expect Washington to make the kind of slam-dunk case they love to bring to court. For one thing, some of the intelligence used in the government's argument would probably be dismissed as hearsay in a courtroom.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an authority on presidential rhetoric at the University of Pennsylvania, says some countries are holding the United States to an unreasonable standard of proof.

"Anything that's based on linking disparate pieces of evidence is subject to skepticism," she said. "Rarely in life do we put together all the pieces."

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