Saddam's Trial Resumes After Five-Week Break

11-28-05 - The trial of Saddam Hussein for alleged crimes against humanity resumed Monday in a heavily guarded courtroom, with the former Iraqi president trying to take command of the proceedings and angrily complaining about having to walk up four flights of stairs in shackles under foreign guard. A former U.S. attorney general sat with the defense team.

After a short session in which the first testimony was read into the record, Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin adjourned the trial until Dec. 5 to allow time to find replacements for two defense lawyers who were slain and another who fled Iraq after he was wounded.

Dressed in black trousers and a gray jacket, Saddam was the last of eight defendants to enter the courtroom, walking with a swagger, appearing confident and acknowledging people with the traditional Arabic greeting, "Peace be upon the people of peace." He also carried a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

Saddam and his co-defendants are charged in the killings of 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 former leader pleaded innocent to charges of murder, torture, forced expulsions and illegal detentions at the opening session last month.

Amin had ordered all handcuffs and shackles removed from Saddam and the seven co-defendants before they entered the courtroom. Mortar fire echoed through the center of the capital just before the session began.

Once inside, Saddam had a brief but heated exchange with Amin, complaining of having to walk up four flights of stairs in shackles because the elevator wasn't working.

The judge said he would tell the police not to let that happen again. Saddam snapped: "You are the chief judge. 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 he was escorted up the stairs by "foreign guards" and that some of his papers had been taken.

"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.

Saddam's half brother and fellow defendant Barazan Ibrahim also complained to the judge that he had not received proper medical treatment since being diagnosed with cancer and that this amounted to "indirect murder."

Saddam then complained that he had written three or four memos to the judge since the Oct. 19 session but received no response. The judge said he was unaware of them.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nueimi sat with the defense team inside the heavily guarded room, along with Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil Dulaimi.

A moment of silence was observed in memory of two defense lawyers assassinated since the trial began. Other defense attorneys were on hand, despite a boycott threat to protest the government's alleged failure to protect them.

Afterward, a videotape obtained from Iraqi intelligence was shown to the court. It depicted Saddam on the streets of Dujail right after the incident in a military uniform, questioning three men held by guards.

The court also played the videotaped testimony of former intelligence officer Wadah Ismael al-Sheik, who investigated the assassination attempt and died of cancer Oct. 27.

Amin read the transcript as the tape played without sound. According to the transcript, al-Sheik, who appeared weak, frail and sat in a wheelchair in a U.S.- controlled hospital last month, said about 400 people were detained after the assassination attempt, although he estimated only between seven and 12 gunmen took an active part 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.

He also said co-defendant Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president, headed a committee that ordered orchards in the area _ the base of the town's livelihood _ to be destroyed. The orchards had been used to conceal the assailants, he said.

Tight security surrounded the court proceedings. The precise starting time was not announced due to fear of attack by both Saddam's supporters and opponents.

Authorities said Sunday that police arrested eight Sunni Arabs for allegedly plotting to kill the judge who prepared Saddam's indictment. The eight were apprehended Saturday in the northern city of Kirkuk, police Col. Anwar Qadir said.

He said they were carrying instructions from a former top Saddam deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, ordering them to kill investigating judge Raed Juhi, who prepared the case against Saddam.

Al-Douri is the highest ranking member of the Saddam regime still at large and is believed to be at least the symbolic leader of Saddam loyalists fighting U.S. forces and Iraq's new government.

The front row of seats in the press gallery bore a warning in English and Arabic: "If you sit here, you could be on television."

The predominantly Sunni insurgency has complicated efforts to put Saddam on trial and forced tight security. For example, names of four of the five trial judges have been kept secret and some of the 35 witnesses may testify behind curtains to protect them.

Defense lawyers had threatened to boycott the proceedings after two of their colleagues were slain in attacks following the opening session Oct. 19. However, lawyer Khamees al-Ubaidi told The Associated Press on Sunday that the defense team would attend after an agreement with U.S. and Iraqi authorities on improving security.

Clark and al-Nueimi flew to Baghdad on Sunday from Amman, Jordan, to lend weight to the defense team. Both have been advising Saddam's lawyers and support their call to have the trial moved out of Iraq.

Clark and others say a fair trial is impossible in Iraq because of the insurgency and because, they argue, the country is effectively under foreign military occupation. U.S. and Iraqi officials insist the trial will conform to international standards.

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.

The trial has unleashed passions in an Iraqi society deeply divided in its judgment of Saddam and his rule.

Many of the Sunni Arab insurgent groups include Saddam loyalists, members of the former ruling Baath party and veterans of both Saddam's personal militia and the Republican Guard.

The ousted leader, meanwhile, is vilified by Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and its Kurdish community, which were oppressed during his rule.

On Saturday, hundreds of supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in Baghdad to demand Saddam's execution.

Separately, the leader of the biggest Shiite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, accused the court of "weakness" for not having sentenced Saddam to death already. He also complained that media attention over allegations of torture by the Shiite-led security services had belittled Saddam's alleged crimes.