Saddam Hussein genocide trial adjourned until Oct. 9 after contentious session

Tuesday, September 26th 2006, 6:04 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Saddam Hussein's genocide trial was adjourned until early next month after a contentious session Tuesday marked by shouting matches and the ejection of the former leader from the courtroom for the second day in a row.

All seven defendants argued loudly with the chief judge, Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa, who first removed Saddam from the court, then Saddam's former defense minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai.

The trial was adjourned until Oct. 9 after a brief recess, without the ex-president and his six co-defendants present in the courtroom. The judge said he wanted to give the defendants time to contact their lawyers or appoint new ones after days of disruptions.

An official close to the court said later that al-Khalifa also threw out the remaining five defendants before the recess.

The outburst began when Saddam refused to remain silent after repeated requests to do so by the judge. Clutching his Quran, Saddam tried to make a statement, interrupting the prosecution's questioning of a witness.

``You are a defendant and I'm the judge,'' al-Khalifa said, telling Saddam to sit down. A defiant Saddam refused and continued speaking even though the judge shut off court microphones.

Saddam's six co-defendants then began a shouting match.

``Shut up, no one may speak ...'' al-Khalifa shouted, pointing his finger at the defendant.

``The court decided to eject Saddam Hussein from the courtroom,'' al-Khalifa added.

Saddam left with a smile, ejected from the courtroom for the second time in as many days.

Al-Tai was the most vocal during the shouting match, shouting insults at al-Khalifa and at one point saying, ``I'm not sitting down,'' and pointing at the judge in a belligerent way. ``I served in the army for 44 years and no one dared to shout at me. We are polite and well behaved.''

After the shouting match, Al-Khalifa ordered a one-hour recess and a curtain was abruptly closed on the journalists' gallery as microphones were cut off in the courtroom. The court then resumed to hear testimony, then was adjourned.

Saddam and his six co-defendants have been on trial since Aug. 21 for their roles in a 1987-1988 crackdown against Kurdish rebels.

The prosecution says about 180,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the military offensive _ code-named Operation Anfal _ which allegedly included the use of chemical weapons. The defendants could face the death penalty if convicted.

In an earlier exchange Tuesday, al-Khalifa warned Saddam to respect court procedures, saying that he would be given an opportunity to speak, but that he would not be permitted to mock the proceedings.

``You are a defendant here. You have rights and obligations,'' al-Khalifa told Saddam.

``You can defend yourself, question witnesses ... and I am ready to allow you (to do so), but this is a court _ not a political forum,'' he said.

He told Saddam to limit his comments to matters pertinent to the trial and said he must rise to address the tribunal _ ``not to speak while sitting down.''

Saddam asked for permission to respond. When al-Khalifa agreed, the deposed Iraqi leader took out a piece of paper _ apparently to read a prepared statement.

But the judge interrupted, saying he would not allow him to read it ``if it was the same letter I received from you.''

Saddam ignored the call. The judge allowed him to read the statement while he stood _ taking 20 minutes to do so _ but cut off microphones in the courtroom.

On Monday, Saddam was thrown out of the courtroom after he protested the court's appointment of lawyers, replacing his own.

Saddam's defense team also boycotted proceedings Monday after having accused the court of violating judicial procedures. Al-Khalifa appointed replacement lawyers so the hearings could continue.

Meanwhile, four witnesses who took the stand Tuesday recalled the disappearance of family members and brutality at the hands of Saddam's military during Anfal.

Thameena Hameed Nouri, 51, said several family members, including her husband, fled their northern Iraqi village after heavy shelling by Iraqi forces. She said troops arrested villagers, separating the men from the women.

While at detention camp, troops beat her ``3-year-old son in front of me, he was unconscious for 1 1/2 hours,'' she said. ``We started screaming and crying, demanding they return our children.''

``We were forced to drink contaminated water that harmed us, the children vomited and suffered from diarrhea. Lice covered our bodies,'' recalled the woman, who has a tribal tattoo on her chin.

Nouri said that she knew of three children dying in the camp, including her daughter Galala.