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Saddam trial suspended as defence team walks

Independent Online


December 05 2005

Baghdad - The trial of Saddam Hussein was marred by chaotic scenes on Monday as the defence team walked out of the tribunal and the ousted Iraqi dictator stood up to shout a tirade of impassioned abuse at the court.

The dramatic scenes, which prompted a recess of the tribunal to solve the problems, were a further setback for the court whose time before Monday has been limited to just two brief sessions after two earlier adjournments.

The walkout was in protest against the court's refusal to let Saddam's foreign lawyers, former US attorney general Ramsey Clark and former Qatari justice minister Najib Nuaimi, address the court.

"Make a written request," said presiding judge Mohammed Rizkar Amin.

"I just want two minutes," Clark said in English, but Amin refused.

From the dock, Saddam interrupted: "How is it (the court) legitimate when it was set up under the occupation?"

Members of the defence team then said they would leave the court and Amin said that "As you like. Then we will have to summon other lawyers".

Saddam refused to have lawyers appointed by the court and stood up to shout at the top of his voice: "Long live Iraq. Long live the Arab nation. Long live Iraq."

The trial was then suspended to allow defence lawyers who quit the courtroom to confer on their next move.

Saddam and seven of his deputies are on trial for the massacre of 148 people from the Shiite village of Dujail in 1982, for which all the accused could face the death penalty.

Nuaimi said the court's refusal to hear the lawyers' request was "a violation of the rights of the defence", insisting the court examine its own legitimacy before proceeding with the trial.

Amin said the defence should send him a written memorandum concerning questions about the court's legitimacy and promised to send a written reply.

Saddam tried to speak to back up his lawyer but Amin ignored his declarations and those of the deposed leader's half-brother and co-defendant Barzan al-Tikriti.

Officials close to the court had been hoping that this time a full four days of hearings featuring 10 witnesses is possible before the court adjourns again in time for Iraq's parliamentary elections on December 15.

At least three witnesses were due to appear Monday. Amid fears over their security, only two witnesses were to appear in court and be filmed by television cameras relaying the trial to the world, according to a US official close to the tribunal.

Another six were to appear in the court but without being filmed. The final two were expected to speak from behind a screen, said the official, who asked not to be named.

Dozens of Iraqis in his former hometown Tikrit demonstrated in support of Saddam, while a symbolic protest against him took place outside the Green Zone in Baghdad where the trial is taking place.

There, a tent of 18 people who have lost relatives to Saddam's regime, one from each of Iraq's provinces, has been set up. "We ask for the hanging Saddam and his aides and we ask for an immediate trial," read the banners.

The whole process, which is closely watched around the world, has had a slow beginning with a brief opening session on October 19, followed by a 40-day delay and then a two hour session on November 28, and then a week-long adjournment.

The trial has been plagued by a range of problems since its inception, most notably serious security issues.

Between the first two sessions, police announced they discovered a plot to assassinate the court's top investigative judge, while two of the defence lawyers were assassinated.

On Sunday, Iraqi security forces announced they foiled one insurgent group's plot to fire rockets at the court building.

The latest delay came after Taha Yassin Ramadan, a close associate of Saddam and his former vice president, refused to use the lawyer the court appointed after his advocate was shot dead.

Aside from Saddam and Ramadan, the defendants include Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half brother and head of intelligence at the time of the massacre, and Awad Ahmed al-Bandar, head judge of the revolutionary court.

There are also four little known Baath officials who worked in Dujail at the time of the alleged massacre, which took place after an assassination attempt against Saddam's convoy. All have pleaded not guilty.

Even as the defence complains they have not had enough time to prepare for the case, there is growing frustration among Iraqis, especially among Shiites and Kurds who suffered the most under Saddam, at the constant delays.

In the last session, the court was shown testimony from wheelchair-bound Waddah Ismail al-Sheikh, a former intelligence official, who implicated Barzan in the Dujail massacre. The official died after the recording was made.

:: Article nr. 18451 sent on 05-dec-2005 17:04 ECT


Link: www.int.iol.co.za/index.php?sf=2813&art_id=qw113377680710I623&click_id=2813&set_

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