Da The New York Times del 29/11/2005

Combative Saddam back in court

di John F. Burns

BAGHDAD - Saddam Hussein returned to court on Monday and quickly seized the floor for a verbal assault on the American military guards who he said had manhandled him on his way to the courtroom, calling them "occupiers and invaders" and demanding that the chief judge in the trial reprove them.

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

The 68-year-old Saddam quickly settled down to listen 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 Saddam's defense team.

After three hours of exchanges, the chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, ordered an adjournment until Dec. 5. to allow time for Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother, who is a defendant in the trial, to meet with new lawyers.

Tikriti rejected a defense lawyer named by the court to represent him after his attorney was killed in a drive-by shooting this month and told Amin that he wanted the two lawyers representing Saddam, Khalil al-Dulaimi and Khamis al-Obeidi, to represent him.

Taha Yassin Ramadan, another defendant and the former vice president, also rejected a court-appointed lawyer. Ramadan and Tikriti were previously represented by Adel Muhammad al-Zubaidi, who was killed on Nov. 8 in the shooting in Baghdad.

Saddam, in a gray suit and open-necked white shirt, was the last of the defendants to be ushered into court. But he waited only a few minutes before renewing the challenge that marked the court's brief opening session in October.

Approaching the microphone in the dock, he said 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 Koran in manacled hands, something he implied was sacrilegious.

"I want you to order them, not tell them," Saddam told the chief judge, who had said that he would tell the Americans about Saddam's complaints. Saddam continued: "They are in our country. You are an Iraqi. They are foreigners and occupiers and invaders, so you must condemn them."

Moments earlier, following a pattern he established during his initial court appearance 17 months ago, Saddam invoked a verse from the Koran, on this occasion one that seemed intended to suggest that the ultimate judgment on the events that occurred during his 24-year rule in Iraq would rest with God, not with the court.

"Do you think that you will enter paradise without Allah judging those among you who fought hard in his cause and remained steadfast?" Saddam said, reciting the verse from memory.

Amin, one of five judges hearing the case, responded with unruffled calm, devoting the opening 90 minutes of the session to procedural issues involving the rights of the defense.

The court has come under intense scrutiny, and widespread criticism, from international legal rights groups, some of which have questioned whether Saddam and his top associates can get a fair trial in an Iraqi court that was originally founded by an American occupation decree.

From the procedural issues, Amin moved directly into the heart of the trial, instructing the prosecution to begin presenting its case. Saddam and his fellow defendants are charged with the torture and killing of 148 men and teenage boys from the town of Dujail, 55 kilometers, or 35 miles, north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against Saddam there in July 1982.

The first prosecution evidence took the form of video recordings.

One showed Saddam 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 that he could not have been involved in the attack because he was fasting and forbidden from committing evil under Islamic tradition, Saddam responded with a mocking reference to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the former 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," Saddam said. He ordered the three men to be separated and taken away for interrogation.

The second item of prosecution evidence showed the videotaped testimony of Wadah Khalil Hussein al-Sheikh, a former secret police commander who gave evidence under guard last month in an American military hospital, where he was being treated for lung cancer. Sheikh, who has since died, appeared for his videotaped testimony in a wheelchair, attached to a drip.

He identified himself as the former director of investigations under the intelligence services, then headed by Tikriti.

He said he and other officials arrived in Dujail the day after the attempted assassination and that, by then, more than 400 people had been arrested for the attack on Saddam's motorcade.

"The number of people who attacked the convoy was no more than 10 or 12," Sheikh said. "I submitted a report on this to Barzan. So I don't know why so many people were arrested."

None of the 400 detainees appeared to have been tortured, the former interrogator said - a point duly noted down by Saddam, listening from his position in the dock.

In January 1983, seven months after the Dujail attack, Sheikh said, Saddam 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.

Sheikh spoke to the judges and prosecutors in a special session that defense lawyers refused to attend, citing a boycott that was called after one of the 13 lawyers who appeared on the defense team at the opening of trial was taken from his Baghdad office by unknown assailants and killed.

After the second lawyer, Zubaidi, was shot and killed, it hardened the boycott and prompted the Iraqi Bar Association to demand that the trial be moved outside Iraq.

The dispute was settled, at least for now, when Saddam's chief lawyer, Dulaimi, and others on the defense team, in talks that were led by American officials, accepted offers of protection by Iraqi Interior Ministry guards and accommodation during the trial sessions in the heavily fortified Green Zone command complex in central Baghdad where the courthouse is situated.

After the long delays in bringing Saddam to trial - he was captured by American troops near his hometown of Tikrit two years ago next month - getting past procedural wrangling and into the substantive part of the trial represented a significant moment for the court.

Members of the defense team told the court they would be raising new challenges to its legitimacy and pressing demands for a 45-day adjournment that would give them time to study prosecution documents that they said had been transferred to them in August in incomplete form.

But by attending the court Monday, and not disrupting the beginnings of the prosecution case, the defendants and their lawyers appeared to have acknowledged that the trial will proceed and that they will play a part in it.

For his part, Saddam appeared, on his initial showing at the hearing Monday, to have acquiesced in the inevitability of the trial. After his opening salvoes, he sat back in the dock taking copious notes and occasionally turning to his neighbors in the dock with a quick smile. In the Dujail case, he and the other defendants face a possible death penalty.

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