Saddam accuses court of violating law by appointing defense lawyers against his wishes

Monday, October 30th 2006, 6:56 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Saddam Hussein accused the chief judge in his genocide trial of violating the law Monday by appointing defense attorneys against his wishes after the ex-president's lawyer walked out of the proceedings.

Attorney Khalil al-Dulaimi stormed from the courtroom shortly after he had ended a monthlong boycott of the trial in which Saddam and six others are charged for their alleged roles in Operation Anfal, a crackdown on Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s.

Al-Dulaimi submitted a dozen motions, including one to allow foreign lawyers to attend the trial without permission of the court. Chief Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa denied most of them.

That prompted the defense lawyer to announce that ``I'm withdrawing'' from the trial. ``I allow you to withdraw. Go ahead,'' the judge responded.

Al-Khalifa also rebuked al-Dulaimi for insisting on referring to Saddam as president of Iraq. ``There is only one president here _ it's me, the court's president,'' the judge said.

The lawyer replied there was nothing in Iraqi law to bar him from using the title of ``the legitimate president of Iraq.''

After his lawyer left, Saddam complained that the court appointed replacement lawyers for him ``despite our wish to be represented by our own attorneys.''

He accused the court of violating the law, which he said stipulated that court-appointed attorneys are provided only for defendants who cannot afford counsel.

After the heated exchanges, the court heard testimony from four Kurdish witnesses who recounted the horrors of alleged chemical weapon attacks during Operation Anfal, an offensive that prosecutors say killed 180,000 people in 1987-88.

Fakher Ali Hussein, 36, said he survived two chemical attacks in 1987 and 1988. ``Villagers experienced shortness of breath, runny noses and vomiting'' in each attack, he said.

In the 1988 attack, he said he saw many dead and presented the court with a list of 35 people who were allegedly killed in that raid.

Another witness, mosque preacher Jamal Sulaiman Qadir, 50, said he was just outside his village when four warplanes bombed it with chemical weapons in May 1988.

On his way home later, he testified, he saw 20 bodies lying on the ground. ``Some of them were children still sucking on lollipops,'' he said.

Qadir said more than 40 people died in the attack and were buried in a mass grave.

``Thank God that the day has come when I'm able to come here wearing my traditional dress and speaking my language to complain against Saddam,'' he said in Kurdish, through an Arabic interpreter.

Aisha Hamad Amin, 84, testified that her son died during the Anfal offensive and that her husband suffered from a stomach disease that killed him three years later. She said she lost her eyesight temporarily because of a chemical attack on her village.

A fourth witness, Aisha Hussein, 62, said her husband went missing when Saddam's troops attacked their village in 1988. Three years later, she was informed that he was killed.

Saddam and one another defendant, his cousin ``Chemical Ali'' al-Majid, are charged with genocide in the Anfal case. The other defendants are accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes. All could be sentenced to death by hanging if convicted.

The defense team had boycotted the proceeding since Sept. 24 after the dismissal of the previous chief judge, who was criticized as being too soft on Saddam.

The lawyers said later they also were protesting the court's refusal to give them more time to review some 10,000 documents in the trial.

Saddam is expected to hear the verdict Nov. 5 in the first trial against him stemming from the deaths of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims from the town of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt against him there. He could receive the death penalty if convicted.

On Sunday, al-Dulaimi said he had written to President Bush warning of the consequences of a death sentence for Saddam.

``I warned him against the death penalty and against any other decision that would inflame a civil war in Iraq and send fire throughout the region,'' al-Dulaimi said in a phone interview with an Associated Press reporter in Amman, Jordan. He did not say when he sent the letter to Bush.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad rejected al-Dulaimi's claim that the Dujail verdict was timed to influence the U.S. midterm elections next week. A death sentence could potentially help the Republicans by reminding American voters of Saddam's crimes.

Khalilzad told CNN the date for releasing the verdict was determined by Iraqi judges.