Defiant Saddam blasts court
A defiant Saddam Hussein on Monday exchanged angry words with the presiding judge and heard testimony from the first prosecution witness as the trial of the former Iraqi dictator resumed after a 40-day break.
After barely two hours in session, the court was adjourned to December 5 to give time for one of Saddam’s seven co-defendants to appoint his own defence lawyer.
Saddam, who faces charges including murder and torture that carry the death penalty, showed no sign of toning down the combative stance he adopted at the first hearing in October.
Iraq’s one-time strongman and his co-defendants, who all pleaded not guilty to charges over a 1982 massacre of Shi’ites, also watched video testimony from a witness who gave evidence from a prison hospital before his death.
Dressed in a smart Western suit with a white handkerchief neatly folded into the top pocket, Saddam engaged in an angry opening skirmish with Judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin over his treatment at the high-security Baghdad courthouse.
He complained he had been forced to walk the stairs into the courtroom, as the lift was broken, and had been put in handcuffs on the way to the court, making it hard for him to carry a copy of the Qur’an.
He then lambasted the court for apparently confiscating his pen and paper, saying: “How can a defendant defend himself if they take even his papers and pen?”
The Kurdish Amin—who, as in the first hearing, appeared unflappable in the face of Saddam’s verbal jousts—promised the paper and pen would be returned later on.
Saddam also fired off an angry tirade against the court’s United States guards.
“Please, judge, I don’t want you to tell them, order them. You are Iraqi, you have sovereignty, they are in your country, they are foreigners, they are invaders.”
The charges relate to the killing of 148 men and youths from the Shi’ite village of Dujail, north of the capital, after Saddam escaped an assassination attempt there in 1982.
The other defendants include Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half-brother and a former director of the feared Mukhabarat intelligence service, and former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan, one of the regime’s “enforcers”.
Amin said he adjourned the trial to give Ramadan time to find his own attorney after rejecting a court-appointed lawyer, but rejected a request from Saddam’s team for a month-long break.
The court was shown testimony from wheelchair-bound Waddah Ismail al-Sheikh, a former intelligence official and prison warden, who said 400 people were detained in Dujail by troops who took their orders from Barzan.
He died after the interview.
Other evidence viewed by the court included a video clip from a British television programme showing Saddam in Dujail in 1982. In contrast to his earlier demeanour, Saddam listened in silence.
Former US attorney Ramsey Clark, a left-wing activist who made several visits to Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 US invasion, was formally sworn in as one of Saddam’s lawyers.
There was tight security following the murder of two lawyers acting for Saddam’s co-defendants and revelations by Iraqi police that they uncovered an al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the court’s top investigative judge.
Police said they had arrested 12 members of a cell linked to the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda who confessed to planning to kill Judge Raed al-Juhi.
Amin, whose role as presiding judge was only revealed on the trial’s opening day on October 19, told a German magazine he had even considered moving the trial to Kurdish-controlled areas for security reasons.
“A trial should take place under the most normal conditions possible, but the situation in Iraq these days is unfortunately anything but normal,” he told Focus.
About 200 people gathered in Dujail, carrying portraits of townspeople executed by the former regime to call for Saddam’s execution, while 500 turned out in the former dictator’s hometown of Tikrit to back him.
Saddam, still feared by many in Iraq, could face other charges, ranging from the massacre of Kurds in 1988 and a brutal crackdown against Shi’ites in 1991 to crimes committed during the wars against Iran and Kuwait.
Iraqi officials have said they chose to start with the Dujail case because it is relatively straightforward and well documented.
But critics charge the case was chosen because it lacked the potential of the other cases for stirring up political controversy for Washington, which backed Saddam’s regime through the 1980s.
As the images of the trial were broadcast on Iraqi television, cafés across the capital were full of captivated locals following the trial, taking place in a converted courthouse in one of Saddam’s former palaces.
“Saddam should be exiled and look at Iraq from a distance and see it develop thanks to an elected government. In this way, he will understand the wrong he did to the country,” said Sateh Abdel Sami, a Sunni Arab.—Sapa-AFP