Witness claims Saddam 'victims' are alive

A defence witness in Saddam Hussein’s trial over the killings of Iraqi Shi’ite villagers claimed many of those allegedly executed were still alive and said the prosecution case was built on bribes.

The anonymous witness said he was a teenager in Dujail in 1982, when an attempt on Saddam’s life led to what the prosecution has termed was a massive crackdown on the village, hundreds of arrests and the execution of 148 men.

“The prosecutor said they were executed but I am telling you I ate with them some time ago” and that 23 of them were alive, said the witness, who had worked at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison in the mid-1980s.

“Many of them have gotten rich and occupy powerful positions,” he said as he testified from behind a curtain, going on to write down names for the judge.

“If it is true and these people are still alive, this whole case should be reconsidered from the beginning,” said the lawyer for Awad al-Bandar, whose revolutionary court sentenced the men to death in 1984.

Saddam and seven associates are on trial for crimes against humanity stemming from the arrests, torture and execution of Dujail villagers as well as the destruction of their property.

The witness charged that the whole case was fabricated.

At a July 2004 gathering in Dujail, “someone came and asked for witnesses, saying the Iranians will thank them and if they don’t have the necessary documents he could forge them”, he said.

“And this man was [chief] prosecutor [Jaafar] al-Mussawi,” said the witness, who added that many Dujail villagers who went on to testify against Saddam were at that meeting.

But the prosecutor issued a prompt rebuttal of the allegations.

“I just want to clarify this for the records. I was born in Baghdad and I never went to Dujail. On July 8 2004 I wasn’t a prosecutor, I had nothing to do with the court,” said Mussawi.

One of the defence lawyers, meanwhile, said a defence witness who testified recently had been killed, a claim that could not be confirmed.

Throughout the trial, the defence has claimed the complainant witnesses against the ousted president and his co-defendants have been coached and induced to testify.

The latest testimony, which caused a stir in the court, came after presiding Judge Rauf Abdel Rahman expressed frustration at the defence’s constantly expanding list of witnesses.

“Every day the defence team gives us a new list of witnesses; we will never be finished with listening to witnesses,” an exasperated presiding Judge Rauf Abdel Rahman said at the opening of the case’s 30th hearing.

The defence phase of the trial has seen the emergence of a strategy geared towards either distancing the defendants from the events or presenting the government actions as a lawful response to the assassination bid.

“It is not a matter of number of witnesses, but the content of their testimonies,” Abdel Rahman told the defendants and their lawyers as they cried foul over his decision to limit the number of new witnesses.

The defence team later assured the judge that it had presented their final list of witnesses.

The eight defendants face execution by hanging if found guilty of charges including murder and torture.

Last week, former deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz made his first appearance since his capture after the United States-led invasion and described the campaign of assassinations launched against the regime in the early 1980s by the Shi’ite Dawa Party—now the party of current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The trial, which opened on October 19, has been marred by the murder of two defence lawyers and the January resignation of the first chief judge.

Once defence testimony is complete, defence lawyers will give their closing statements, followed by the defendants’ final statements, which will mark the end of the trial.

The proceedings could conclude by the end of June, a US official close to the court said last week, with a verdict coming as early as July.

International human rights advocates say the trial, taking place in Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone, is being conducted well below international legal standards.—AFP

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