Saddam trial judge steps down

One of the five judges in the Saddam Hussein trial has stepped down after learning that one of the defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother, a court official said today.

One of the five judges in the Saddam Hussein trial has stepped down after learning that one of the defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother, a court official said today.

Raid Juhi said the judge removed himself last week and has been replaced in time for tomorrow’s hearing. Juhi declined to give further details or identify the defendant involved.

Names of both judges were not released since security regulations prohibit the publication of the identities of all tribunal members except the chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin.

Tomorrow’s session will be the third so far since the proceedings opened on October 19. Amin granted a week’s adjournment on November 28 so that one of Saddam’s seven co-defendants, former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, could find a replacement for his court-appointed lawyer.

All eight defendants are charged with ordering the killing of more than 140 people from the mainly Shiite town of Dujail north of Baghdad after an attempt on Saddam’s life there in 1982. If convicted, the eight could face the death penalty.

The trial has been dogged by security issues since the outset. Two defence lawyers have been assassinated since the opening session and a third has fled the country.

The courtroom is in the former headquarters of Saddam’s Baath party in the Green Zone, a large swathe of land in Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris River that’s home to the US Embassy, offices of the Iraqi government and parliament.

Earlier today, the government’s national security adviser said authorities had uncovered a plot by a Sunni Arab insurgent group to attack Saddam’s trial tomorrow.

A statement released by the office of national security adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie said the 1920 Revolution Brigades planned to fire rockets at the court building during Monday’s session.

The statement said Iraqi intelligence uncovered the plot but gave no further details and did not say whether anyone had been arrested.

Tomorrow, according to a US official close to the proceedings, the court will begin hearing the testimony of 10 complainants of whom six have agreed to have their identity revealed but not appear in television footage shown in and outside Iraq.

Another two have agreed to have their identities disclosed and appear in footage, while another two will only testify from behind a screen in the courtroom, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

He said that each of the eight defendants, including Ramadan, will have at least one attorney representing him.

In neighbouring Jordan, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and a member of Saddam’s defence team, said he and other international lawyers will meet the ousted Iraqi leader later in the day to set out a defence strategy.

Clark left Amman for Baghdad early today accompanied by Jordanian lawyer Issam Ghazawi and ex-Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nueimi. The three serve as advisers to Saddam’s lead Iraqi lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi and they attended last week’s hearing for the first time.

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