Outbursts mar Hussein trial

Defendants are forced to appear in court without their attorneys

February 14, 2006|By BORZOU DARAGAHI | BORZOU DARAGAHI,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants, one in pajamas, were forced to appear in court yesterday without their attorneys in a session marked by frequent shouting matches.

Amid the chaotic din of the three-hour session, prosecutors presented documents suggesting that upper echelons of his government and security apparatus knew about and directed the persecution of villagers in Dujail, where Hussein was the target of an assassination attempt in 1982.

However, a witness summoned to verify the documents, former Hussein aide Ahmad Hussein Samarayie, told the court that he could not recall the circumstances surrounding them.

From the outset, the proceedings were punctuated by outbursts from Hussein, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti and the other defendants.

"Long live Iraq!" Hussein shouted as he entered the courtroom in an ankle-length dishdasha robe, jacket and slippers rather than his usual dark suit.

Lead prosecutor Jaffar Mussawi, speaking later on Al-Arabiya television, said Hussein agreed to enter the courtroom only after guards threatened to pick him up and carry him inside.

"This is not a court," Hussein said, as Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel Rahman repeatedly told him and other defendants to be quiet. "This is a joke."

After the initial outburst, the courtroom calmed and Hussein regained his composure. During an hourlong portion of testimony, Ibrahim - wearing a long undershirt he referred to as pajamas - sat on the floor, faced the back of the courtroom and dozed off.

In the first of the trials concerning the alleged crimes of Iraq's former government, Hussein and seven co-defendants stand accused of executing at least 148 people in Dujail and subjecting hundreds of others to a campaign of imprisonment and torture as punishment for the assassination attempt.

The trial was to resume today. From its rocky start last fall, the proceedings have been clouded by shaky procedures, foggy testimony and explosive outbursts by defendants.

The trial has been complicated by the refusal at times of the defendants and their lawyers to participate. They stormed out of the courtroom this month after Abdel Rahman took over from the previous lead judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who resigned amid suggestions by top Iraqi officials that he was being too lenient with defendants. Some of the defendants boycotted the last trial session.

Yesterday, the judge ordered the defendants to appear.

"The court can assign anyone to come, to summon anyone to attend and adhere to his testimony," Raad Juhi, the court's lead investigative judge, said after the session.

Abdel Rahman has barred the defense attorneys from attending the trial unless they adhere to proper court decorum.

The defendants have refused to acknowledge the replacement lawyers appointed by the court to represent them. Human rights advocates and legal experts have said that forcing defendants to take on the attorneys treads questionable legal territory.

Meanwhile, in a mostly Shiite district of Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew himself up yesterday after joining a line of Iraqis waiting for government checks, killing 10 people and wounding about 40, said Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi, an Interior Ministry spokesman. The wounded included nine women and three children, police said.

The attack occurred as more than 70 people lined up at a bank to receive government checks to compensate for incomplete food rations. Police said the bomber stepped into the line and detonated his explosives as security guards were searching people before letting them in.

At least 14 other people were killed yesterday in continuing violence across Iraq, authorities said.

Also yesterday, new footage broadcast by the Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya in Dubai showed two hostage German engineers surrounded by masked gunmen. The station said the kidnappers warned the German government that it was the "last chance" to meet their demands or the men would be killed.

Thomas Nitschke and Rene Braeunlich were seized last month in Beiji, 115 miles north of Baghdad.

No new demands were made, and the kidnappers did not set a deadline, Al-Arabiya said.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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