Fiery Hussein returns to court

Ex-dictator lashes out at captors, judge

He calls U.S. guards `invaders'

little evidence heard before week's adjournment ordered

November 29, 2005|By RICHARD BOUDREAUX

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein returned to court yesterday and quickly seized the floor by lecturing the chief judge about American military guards, calling them "occupiers and invaders" and demanding that the judge admonish them.

Hussein's outburst came as the Iraqi High Tribunal, after a 40-day recess, resumed the trial of the former Iraqi ruler and seven others for crimes against humanity, then once again adjourned for a week to allow two defendants time to meet with new lawyers.

Dressed in black trousers and a gray jacket with a white handkerchief in the breast pocket, the 68-year-old former president was the last defendant to enter the chamber.

While other defendants appeared frightened and exhausted, Hussein seemed to swagger to his seat as he cradled a copy of the Quran. He began with a verse from the Muslim holy book, then complained that he had been deprived of his notes and a pen before entering the court, forced to walk upstairs in the courthouse because the elevators were not working and obliged, too, to carry his copy of the Quran in manacled hands, something he implied was sacrilegious.

The chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said he would tell the police not to let that happen again.

"You are the chief judge," Hussein snapped back. "I don't want you to tell them. I want you to order them. They are in our country. You have the sovereignty. You are Iraqi, and they are foreigners and occupiers."

Hussein then listened as the court turned to procedural issues, including the accreditation process that approved a former U.S. attorney general, Ramsey Clark, as a member of Hussein's defense team.

The court has come under intense scrutiny and widespread criticism from international legal rights groups, some of which have questioned whether Hussein and his top associates can get a fair trial in an Iraqi court that was originally founded by an American occupation decree. Some of these groups have said the trial should have been held before an international tribunal outside Iraq.

From the procedural issues, Amin moved directly into the heart of the trial, instructing the prosecution to begin presenting its case. Hussein and his fellow defendants are accused of responsibility for the torture and killing of 148 men and teenage boys from the town of Dujail, 35 miles north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against Hussein there in July 1982.

It is the first of at least a dozen charges for which the former leader could be tried by the special Iraqi court.

The only witness heard yesterday was Wadah Ismail Sheik, an intelligence officer under Hussein, who was sent in 1982 to investigate the assassination attempt on the president. Sheik died of lung cancer last month, a few days after court officials videotaped his testimony in a Baghdad hospital.

Sheik identified himself as the former director of investigations under the intelligence services, and said he and other officials arrived in Dujail the day after the attempted assassination. By then, he said, more than 400 people had been arrested for the attack on Hussein's motorcade.

"The number of people who attacked the convoy was no more than 10 or 12" Sheik said. "I submitted a report on this to [Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, one of Hussein's half-brothers and a defendant at the trial]. So I don't know why so many people were arrested."

In January 1983, seven months after the Dujail attack, Sheik said, Hussein ordered him to move all of those held by the intelligence service to the southern city of Samawa, and he said he had no knowledge of what happened to them after that.

Survivors in Dujail have said that more that 1,500 townspeople, including women and children, were transferred to a remote desert camp in the south, and that many died there.

Another video showed Hussein on a Dujail street immediately after the assassination attempt, wearing the military-style uniform of the ruling Baath party as he questioned three suspects held by guards. When one of the men said he could not have been involved in the attack because he was fasting and therefore forbidden from committing evil under Islamic tradition, Hussein responded with a mocking reference to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then ruler of Iran, which was then locked in an eight-year war with Iraq.

"Well, we know that Khomeini fasts, and that doesn't stop him from committing crimes," Hussein said. He ordered the three men to be separated and taken away for interrogation.

Amin ordered the court to adjourn until Monday, to allow time for al-Tikriti to meet with new lawyers. The adjournment came when al-Tikriti rejected a defense lawyer named by the court to represent him after his own attorney was killed in a drive-by shooting this month, and told Amin that he wanted the two lawyers representing Hussein to represent him.

Taha Yassin Ramadan, another defendant and the former vice president, also rejected a court-appointed lawyer.

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