Hussein admits cursory review before deaths

Ousted Iraqi dictator undergoes first cross-examination in trial

April 06, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Bombarded with questions during the first cross-examination in his trial, Saddam Hussein admitted yesterday that he had signed an order of execution for 148 men and boys with only a cursory glance at the evidence.

The testimony appeared to bolster the case of the prosecution in a tumultuous six-month trial that has been dogged by problems ranging from assassinations to political infighting.

It is still widely seen as illegitimate by many international observers and human rights advocates.

The chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Mousawi, is trying to build a case showing that Hussein and seven co-defendants are responsible for the torture and executions of men and boys from the Shiite village of Dujail, where a small group of guerrillas tried to assassinate Hussein in 1982.

The victims were rounded up shortly after the assassination attempt and sent off to prisons where they eventually were killed. The defendants are also charged with destroying the livelihood of the village by razing orchards near the site of the attack.

Mousawi asked Hussein yesterday how he could have taken only two days to review evidence before signing an execution order for 148 people.

"That is the right of the head of the state," Hussein replied, standing behind a lectern in a black suit, swiveling his head between the prosecutor and the chief judge, Raouf Abdel-Rahman.

Hussein said he had complied with any requirements in the Iraqi constitution that he review the documents. "But it was not possible for me to read everything," he said.

Mousawi, dressed in black robes with a ceremonial red sash around his neck, continued to press Hussein, presenting documents that appeared earlier in the trial and asking Hussein whether he had, indeed, signed them. In one document, the word yes was written next to a recommendation from security officials saying that 10 juveniles should be executed in a secret manner. Hussein acknowledged that he had written yes in the margin.

The documents with Hussein's signature were presented to the court by prosecutors in a session Feb. 28. At the time, the prosecutors did not bring forward handwriting experts to authenticate the signatures of Hussein and other defendants, and court judges did not make clear what standard of evidence they were using.

Hussein's admission yesterday that he had signed the execution orders and written some of the most damning remarks seemed to confirm the authenticity of the evidence.

Despite those admissions and occasional lapses into fatigue, in which he leaned over at his podium, Hussein maintained control of the courtroom for much of the afternoon. He relentlessly needled the judge over the tribunal's legitimacy, criticized the current Iraqi government for allowing bodies to pile up in the street from sectarian violence, and boasted of his role in a failed 1959 attempt to assassinate Abdul-Karim Qasim, the Iraqi president.

Hussein argued that the Dujail victims had plotted against him at the behest of the Iran, which Iraq was fighting at the time. He also admitted ordering the destruction of the orchards around the village, saying they had become so dense that guerrillas could hide in them.

One of Hussein's lawyers, a Lebanese woman named Bushra Khalil, stood up with posters of naked men in Abu Ghraib who had been abused by the Americans in the infamous scandal, forcing bailiffs to escort her out as she yelled at the judge.

"I want to show you what Americans do to prisoners," she said. "What have you done about the Americans?"

The court was adjourned after nearly six hours, and the judge said the trial would resume today.

With Hussein's testimony at an end, the trial prepares to enter its final phase, in which the judges will review formal charges and hear arguments from the defense team. Hussein faces a possible death penalty, as does his half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, the former head of intelligence, and several other defendants.

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