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Saddam's trial resumes without him

Luke Baker and Gideon Long, Reuters

BAGHDAD, December 7, 2005 - Saddam Hussein refused to attend his trial on Wednesday, bringing the often chaotic proceedings to a halt before the judge decided to press on with the televised hearings on crimes against humanity without him.

After telling the court to "go to hell" the night before, the former dictator boycotted what would have been the fifth session of his trial and spent most of the day in talks with lawyers and a battle of wills with the Kurdish presiding judge.

Judge Rizgar Amin discussed the stand-off with Saddam's attorneys behind closed doors inside the marbled courtroom in Baghdad before eventually deciding to push ahead.

As a new witness began his testimony, speaking from behind a curtain for fear of his life, Saddam's black leather chair stood conspicuously empty at the front of the penned-in dock.

Behind it, the former president's seven co-defendants listened intently as the man, named only as Witness F, described seeing a prisoner tortured to death in the 1980s.

Saddam's no-show is the most dramatic twist so far in a trial that has been plagued by delays, faulty equipment and rambling testimony since it opened on October 19.

It has already been adjourned twice -- once to allow the defense time to prepare their case and once after two defense lawyers were shot dead.

As soon at the trial resumed on Wednesday, Saddam's attorney Khalil Dulaimi said he would meet court officials at the end of the day to discuss security for his team.

Under Iraqi law, which forms the basis of the tribunal's rules in an amalgam with other principles of international law, the trial can continue to its conclusion without Saddam.

But his absence will deprive millions of Iraqis of the chance to see their former president in the dock.

Although many Iraqi and international observers feel the verdict is a foregone conclusion -- Saddam will be hanged -- they also say the actual process of trying him could help Iraq move on from the atrocities of his 30-year rule.

Iraq goes to the polls next week to elect the first full- term parliament of the post-Saddam era, and the Shi'ite and Kurdish-led government is keen to show the long-oppressed majority community that their former tormentor faces justice.

CONCERNS OVER TRIAL

Saddam and his co-defendants have said their trial is a sham and have repeatedly disrupted it, berating the judge and chief prosecutor and accusing fearful and occasionally incoherent witnesses of lying.

The trial is dealing with the killing of 148 people in the Shi'ite Muslim village of Dujail north of Baghdad over 20 years ago. The prosecution says Saddam ordered the killings after an attempt to kill him in the village in July 1982.

Witness F, the eighth person to testify, described the abuse he says he suffered in Iraqi jails after the failed plot and gave specific, if sparse, details of a killing which he said he witnessed in a Baghdad jail.

"I saw somebody being killed, he was tortured to death. he was tortured by the guards," the man said.

When the judge asked if the witness had seen anyone killed in Dujail itself, the witness replied "No."

The trial has rekindled painful memories for many Iraqis.

However, after four sessions, some observers have voiced doubts about the strength of the Dujail case, and the judge has instructed some witnesses to focus their rambling testimony.

The U.N.'s human rights chief in Iraq says he sees little prospect of the trial meeting international standards.

International human rights and legal observers have raised concerns about witness protection, security and the fact that the death penalty cannot be commuted if it is imposed.


:: Article nr. 18513 sent on 07-dec-2005 16:11 ECT

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Link: news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20051207/wl_nm/iraq_saddam_dc_47



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