Saddam and co-defendants forced to attend trial

Saddam Hussein was forced to attend the latest session of his Baghdad trial today, looking haggard and wearing a robe rather than his usual crisp suit as he shouted: “Down with Bush”.

His top co-defendant struggled with guards bringing him into the court.

Saddam and his seven co-defendants had vowed not to attend the trial until the return of their lawyers.

The defence team have said they are boycotting the proceedings until chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman is removed, alleging he is biased against their clients.

Saddam entered the courtroom on his own at the start of today’s session, but he looked weary and argued immediately with the judge, shouting slogans against US President George Bush.

“They have forcibly brought me here,” he told Abdel-Rahman. “Exercise your right to try me in absentia.”

Saddam shouted: “Down with the agents. Down with Bush. Long live the nation,” referring to the American president, as he entered the room. He wore a blue galabeya – a traditional Arab robe – and a black jacket, a contrast to the tailored black suits he has worn to past sessions.

After his entrance, co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim was brought in by guards holding him by the arms. Ibrahim, Saddam’s half-brother and former intelligence chief, struggled with the guards while shouting angrily.

He tried to address the judge, but Abdel-Rahman ordered guards to seat him in his chair. Ibrahim refused and sat on the floor with his back to the judge.

Ibrahim was bare-headed, in contrast to past sessions when he wore an Arab head scarf, which he had insisted to the court that he be allowed to put on to preserve his dignity.

Abdel-Rahman took over as chief judge last month, taking a tough stance to impose order after his predecessor resigned amid criticism over tumultuous proceedings marked by frequent, profane outbursts by Saddam and Ibrahim.

The defence team walked out on January 29 after Abdel-Rahman threw one of their colleagues out of the courtroom. Saddam and three co-defendants were allowed to leave or forcibly removed, and the judge appointed replacements for the defence lawyers.

In the following session on February 1, only three defendants attended. None showed up the next day and Saddam’s lawyers have said they will continue to boycott the trial as long as Abdel-Rahman is on the bench.

The defence claims that Abdel-Rahman is unfit to try the case because he was sentenced to life in absentia in the 1970s for anti-state activity. Saddam became president in 1979, but was Iraq’s most powerful man for several years before that.

Court officials said Abdel-Rahman must formally address the issue of his fitness because the defence has filed a motion for his removal, citing his opposition to Saddam’s regime.

The trial was resuming today after an 11-day adjournment. Saddam and his seven co-defendants are on trial in the killing of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims after the former ruler survived a 1982 assassination attempt in Dujail north of Baghdad. If convicted, they could face the death penalty by hanging.

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