Hussein, Back in Court, Is Combative and Feisty

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 28 - Saddam Hussein returned to court today 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.

Mr. Hussein's outburst came as the Iraqi High Tribunal re-adjourned after a 40-day recess to resume the trial of the former Iraqi ruler and seven others for crimes against humanity. But the 68-year-old Mr. Hussein quickly settled down to listen as the court turned to procedural issues, including the accreditation process that approved a former United States attorney-general, Ramsey Clark, as a member of Mr. Hussein's defense team.

After only three hours of exchanges in the court, the chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, ordered a new adjournment until Dec. 5, next Monday, to allow time for Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Mr. Hussein's half-brother, who is a defendant in the trial, to meet with new lawyers. The adjournment came when Mr. Tikriti rejected a defense lawyer named by the court to represent him after his own attorney was killed in a drive-by shooting this month, and told Mr. Amin that he wanted the two lawyers representing Mr. Hussein, 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. Mr. Ramadan and Mr. Tikriti were represented by Adel Muhammad al-Zubaidi, who was killed on Nov. 8 in the shooting in Baghdad.

Mr. Hussein, in a grey 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 feisty challenge that marked the court's brief opening session in October. Approaching the microphone in the dock, he said he had been deprived of his notes and a pen before entering the court, and roughly treated by American guards who had taken his Koran from his manacled hands as they ascended the stairs to the court.

"I want you to order them, not ask them", Mr. Hussein told the chief judge, Mr. Amin, who said that he would ask the Americans to be more careful. Mr. Hussein continued, "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, Mr. Hussein 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 Mr. Hussein's 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?", Mr. Hussein said, reciting the verse from memory.

Mr. 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 Mr. Hussein and his top associates can get a fair trial in an Iraqi court that was originally founded by an American occupation decree. Some of these groups have said the trial should have been held before an international tribunal outside Iraq.

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

The first prosecution evidence took the form of video recordings.

One showed Mr. Hussein 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, Mr. Hussein 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," Mr. Hussein 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. Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Hussein's motorcade. "The number of people who attacked the convoy was no more than 10 or 12," Mr. 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 Mr. Hussein, listening from his position in the dock. In January 1983, seven months after the Dujail attack, Mr. Sheikh said, Mr. Hussein 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.

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

After the second lawyer, Mr. 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 Mr. Hussein's chief lawyer, Mr. 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 located.

Before inviting the prosecution to present its case, Mr. Amin, who is an Iraqi Kurd, stood to express formal condolences for the two slain lawyers, Sadoun al-Janabi, who represented Awad al-Bandar, the former chief judge of Mr. Hussein's revolutionary court, and Mr. Zubaidi. "The court expresses its sorrow over what happened to the lawyers who cannot be present here today because of what occurred after the last session", he said. "The court believes that the best memorial for them will be a fair and open trial".

After the long delays in bringing Mr. Hussein 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 today, 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, Mr. Hussein appeared, on his initial showing at today's hearing, to have acquiesced in the inevitability of the trial, which is the first of perhaps a dozen that prosecutors say they are planning against him and his top associates.

After his opening salvoes, he sat back in the dock taking copious notes, and occasionally turning to his neighbor in the dock, Mr. Bandar, the former revolutionary court judge, or to Mr. Dulaimi, with a quick smile. In the Dujail case, he and the other defendants face a possible death penalty, which prosecutors have said would not be carried out until other cases against them are completed.

Mr. Dulaimi has said the defense strategy will be to challenge the tribunal's legitimacy. Others on the defense team have said a crucial argument will be that the tribunal, originally founded under an American occupation decree and adopted into Iraqi law only last month by the transitional parliament, contravenes a provision in the Geneva Conventions that the lawyers contend forbids occupying powers from creating judicial institutions.

To bolster the challenge, Mr. Hussein's defense team was joined by Mr. Clark, the former American attorney general, who has a long and controversial history of offering legal advice to toppled foreign leaders, including the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic.

Tensions over the trial have been evident recently in a series of protests in Baghdad, and in the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, at which crowds of several hundred, mostly Shiites, have burned Mr. Hussein in effigy, hoisted signs saying "No, no to the devil!" and demanded that he be hanged after a quick trial.

Less than 24 hours before Mr. Hussein returned to court, the police in northern Iraq said Sunday that they had arrested 10 Sunni Arab men carrying orders from a fugitive associate of Mr. Hussein's to assassinate the court's best-known judge, Raid Juhi.

Officials in Ottawa and London have confirmed that four Western aid workers - an American, a Briton and two Canadians - were kidnapped in Baghdad on Saturday.

Insurgents have made a major tactic of kidnapping foreign civilians and have seized at least 200 in the 31 months of the war, dozens of whom have been killed, some by beheading. But the tactic has been used much less frequently since American and Iraqi troops overran the insurgent stronghold of Falluja outside Baghdad last November, uncovering bunkers where some of the hostages had been held. Since then, foreigners, like Iraqis, have faced a greater threat from suicide bombings.