The last phase of the turbulent trial of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity resumed on Monday with a boycott by the deposed Iraqi leader and key members of the defence team.
The Iraqi high tribunal, which is in charge of trying Saddam and his seven former cohorts, said it would continue to hear the defence’s closing arguments with or without Saddam or his lawyers.
Saddam and the co-defendants are accused of ordering the killing of 148 Shi’ite villagers in Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982 following a botched assassination attempt against the deposed leader.
”The tribunal will continue its sessions today and in the next few days to hear the defence’s closing arguments, be it with lawyers appointed by the defendants or those appointed by the court,” the tribunal’s chief investigative Judge, Raed Juhi, told reporters. ”If it is court-appointed lawyers, the tribunal can give them extra time to prepare their arguments.”
In a letter to the tribunal’s chief judge, Saddam said he boycotted Monday’s proceedings in Baghdad because he did not recognise the legitimacy of the court, which he charged was making a mockery of justice.
”The tribunal is lacking in all procedures established by international and Iraqi law,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Agence France-Presse. ”For this reason, it seems there is a wish to condemn us for malicious American intentions.”
And Saddam’s main defence lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said from Cairo that most of the defence team would also boycott the proceedings ”until our demands are satisfied”.
He said the lawyers want protection for them and their families to be provided by a ”neutral third party”, and for their ”right to defend to be respected”.
Key defence team member Khamis al-Obeidi was assassinated last month, the third defence lawyer to be killed since the start of the trial in October.
Juhi said the lawyers had declined security measures offered by Iraqi and United States-led coalition forces similar to those accorded to the tribunal’s judges.
As for their demand for extra time to prepare for closing arguments, the court’s spokesperson said sufficient delays had been accorded already.
”The lawyers have asked not to be interrupted when making their arguments,” Juhi said. ”But the tribunal has the right to decide on procedures.”
Juhi said the lawyers had also asked for an investigation into al-Obeidi’s killing. ”We are not qualified to look into this,” he said.
The only defendants present for Monday’s session were Ali Daeh Ali and Mohammed Azzam Azzawi, both Ba’ath party officials from Dujail.
Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi had asked that charges be dropped against Azzawi and that the court show leniency to Ali.
Before the trial was adjourned until Tuesday, Ali denied his role in denouncing or writing reports against Dujail citizens who opposed the regime or had a role in plotting the failed attempt on Saddam’s life.
He said such reports bearing his signature, which had been presented by prosecutors, were fakes.
”There are counterfeit professionals in Iraq. You can find them in the Mredi market in Baghdad,” he told the court, referring to a market in the impoverished Shi’ite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad.
During the hearing, Chief Judge Rauf Abdel Rahman condemned the killing of Obeidi, who was snatched by about 20 men from his Baghdad home and later shot dead and dumped at a traffic roundabout.
He also said the absent defendants were in a neighbouring room and could follow the proceedings on television.
The trial was taking place in the highly fortified Green Zone in Baghdad against a backdrop of mounting sectarian violence between majority Shi’ites and members of the Sunni Arab community that was dominant under Saddam.
In his closing arguments on June 19, Mussawi demanded the death penalty for Saddam and two others, his half-brother and former head of intelligence Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan.
”The charges against the defendants are of murder, extreme deprivation of people’s rights, torture and forcibly hiding people. These are crimes against humanity,” he said.
The defence has insisted the crackdown was a legitimate action against those responsible for planning to murder the head of state. — Sapa-AFP