A combative Saddam Hussein lashed out today over his treatment by US guards and demanded that the chief judge stand up to American “occupiers and invaders” as his trial for crimes against humanity resumed in a heavily guarded Baghdad court.
The 68-year-old former president began his monologue with a verse from the Muslim holy book the Koran which reminds believers who aspire for Heaven that God knows who actually participated in jihad.
Two of the seven other defendants also spoke out during the 2 1/2-hour session, complaining of their treatment in detention or dissatisfaction with their court-appointed counsel. The tribunal adjourned until next Monday to give the defence time to replace lawyers killed since the opening session on October 19.
The court’s tolerance of such comments drew sharp complaints from Shiite politicians who believed the Iraqi High Tribunal was bending over backwards to accommodate a defendant who should have already been convicted and executed.
“The chief judge should be changed and replaced by someone who is strict and courageous,” said Shiite legislator Ali al-Adeeb, a senior official in Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s party.
Saddam and his co-defendants stand accused of killing more than 140 Shiite Muslims after an assassination attempt against the former president in the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982. Convictions could bring a sentence of death by hanging.
The tribunal allowed former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and prominent lawyers from Qatar and Jordan to join the defence team as advisers, a move aimed at convincing foreign human rights groups that the trial would meet international standards of fairness.
Als, the chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, ordered all handcuffs and shackles removed from the defendants before they entered the courtroom – another gesture toward the accused.
But the conduct of the session – only the second day of the trial – often appeared rambling and unfocused. Saddam, immaculately groomed and the only defendant wearing Western clothes, moved quickly to try to seize control of the proceedings.
Saddam was the last defendant to enter the chamber. While other defendants appeared frightened and exhausted, Saddam swaggered confidently to his seat, greeting people along the way with the traditional Arabic greeting, “Peace be upon the people of peace” as he cradled a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.
He began with a verse from the Koran: “You thought you would be rewarded with Heaven, as if God doesn’t know who took part in jihad and who has persevered.”
He then complained that he had to walk up four flights of stairs in shackles and accompanied by “foreign guards” because the lift was not working.
Judge Amin said he would tell the police not to let that happen again.
“You are the chief judge,” Saddam 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. They are invaders. You should order them.”
Saddam also complained that some of his papers had been taken from him.
“How can a defendant defend himself if his pen was taken? Saddam Hussein’s pen and papers were taken. I don’t mean a white paper. There are papers downstairs that include my remarks in which I express my opinion,” he said.
Amin ordered bailiffs to give Saddam pen and paper.
None of the nearly 35 prosecution witnesses testified today, but the prosecution entered into evidence two videotapes – one shot in the aftermath of the assassination attempt showing Saddam in military uniform interrogating three villagers. The second was a videotaped statement by former intelligence officer Wadah Israel al-Sheik made last month shortly before he died of cancer.
Amin read the transcript as the tape played without sound. According to the transcript, al-Sheik, who appeared frail and sat in a wheelchair in a US-controlled hospital, said about 400 people were detained after the assassination attempt, although he estimated only between seven and 12 gunmen actively participated in the ambush of Saddam’s convoy.
“I don’t know why so many people were arrested,” al-Sheik said, adding that Ibrahim, head of intelligence at the time, “was the one directly giving the orders.”
A day after the assassination attempt, whole families were rounded up and taken to Abu Ghraib prison, he said.
Al-Sheik noted that co-defendant Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president, headed a committee that ordered orchards – the basis of Dujail’s livelihood – to be destroyed because they were used to conceal the assailants.
At the end of the session, Saddam’s half brother and fellow defendant, Barazan Ibrahim, complained he had not received proper medical treatment since being diagnosed with cancer and that this amounted to “indirect murder.” Defendant Awad al-Bandar claimed he and Saddam had been threatened in court last month. The judge told him to submit his complaints in writing.
Judge Amin then adjourned the hearing until next Monday. Saddam’s personal lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, complained the defence needed at least a month. Amin suspended the hearing for 10 minutes to confer with the four other judges and then announced that the Monday date was firm.
The slow pace of the proceedings has angered many Iraqis – especially majority Shiites – who believe Saddam should have already been punished for his alleged crimes. Shiites and Kurds were heavily oppressed by Saddam’s Sunni Arab-dominated regime.
“Iraqis are beginning to feel frustrated,” said Ridha Jawad Taki, a senior official in the country’s biggest Shiite party. “The court should be more active. Saddam was captured two years ago ... The weakness of this court might effect the verdicts and this is worrying us.”
However, Clark and others argue that a fair trial is impossible in Iraq because of the insurgency and because the country is effectively under foreign military occupation, despite US and Iraqi assurances that the trial will conform to international standards.
Today, Clark told CNN it was “extremely difficult” to assure fairness in the trial “because the passions in the country are at a fever pitch.”
“How can you ask a witness to come in when there’s a death threat?” he asked. “Unless there’s protection for the defence, I don’t know how the trial can go forward.”
Clark, who was attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson, is a staunch anti-war advocate who met with Saddam days before the 2003 invasion. He has also consulted several times with one-time Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is on trial in The Hague on war crimes charges.
Nevertheless, the trial has unleashed passions at a time of rising tensions between the country’s Shiite and Sunni communities. Government security services are dominated by Shiites and Kurds, while Sunni Arabs form the backbone of the insurgency.