Saddam Hussein's genocide trial resumes one day after lawyers announced boycott of the proceedings

Monday, September 25th 2006, 5:26 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) The chief judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial threw the ex-president out of the courtroom Monday in a stormy session boycotted by the former ruler's defense team.

``I have a request here that I don't want to be in this cage anymore'' Saddam said, referring to the court. He waved a yellow paper before he spoke to chief judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa.

Al-Khalifa snapped back: ``I'm the presiding judge. I decide about your presence here. Get him out!'' _ pointing to guards to take Saddam out.

``You need to show respect to the court and the case, and those who don't show it, I'm sorry, but I have to apply the law,'' the judge said.

The exchange began when Sabri al-Douri, director of military intelligence under Saddam, referred to a fellow co-defendant, Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, by his former rank of lieutenant general.

The judge then said that the defendants could not be referred to by their former rank.

An angry Saddam then insisted that he be allowed to leave and the judge ordered him out of the courtroom.

Saddam and six co-defendants have been on trial since August 21th for their roles in a crackdown against Kurdish guerrillas in the late 1980s. The prosecution says about 180,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the crackdown, codenamed Operation Anfal.

The Monday session got off to a rough start when Saddam's defense attorneys followed through on their threat to boycott the proceedings to protest the replacement of the chief judge and other alleged irregularities.

Several other lawyers representing other defendants were also absent when the session began. The judge appointed replacement lawyers so the trial could proceed.

Al-Douri and another defendant, former intelligence official Farhan Mutlak Saleh, complained to the judge that they did not accept their court-appointed attorneys.

``Did I dismiss your attorney?'' the judge asked ``He just walked out!''

The judge told Saleh that he would be given time with his court appointed attorney to plan a defense.

Saleh said: ``Good, that's all I ask.''

Another defendant, Saddam's cousin ``Chemical'' Ali al-Majid, also rejected his court-appointed lawyer.

``I refuse such an attorney, who cannot defend me,'' he said, apparently because the lawyer didn't cross examine a witness who implicated him the Operation Anfal.

``We agree that you can contact your original attorney or hire new ones,'' the judge said.

``I am here against my will and by force,'' the defendant said.

He also accused the judge of leading the witness.

``If you allow me to walk out of the session because I expect the verdict to be political and pre-arranged,'' he asked. But the judge didn't reply and called a second witness to the stand.

In announcing the boycott, Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam's chief lawyer, complained that last week's decision to replace chief judge Abdullah al-Amiri violated judicial rules.

Al-Dulaimi also protested the court's refusal to hear non-Iraqi lawyers and its demand that foreign attorneys seek permission to enter the courtroom.

Among Saddam's nine lawyers are a Jordanian, a Spaniard, a Frenchman and two Americans, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

Al-Khalifa opened the session by calling an elderly Kurdish man to take the witness stand.

Mohammed Rasul Mustafa, 65, sporting the traditional Kurdish headdress, said he witnessed the bombing of the northern Sawisaynan village, from his own northern Kurdish village, which was an hour's walk away.

``I saw the smoke cover the village with my own eyes,'' Mustafa said.

He said that as he traveled toward the village, he smelled a strange odor which was like ``apples.'' The man said he turned around and fled the area along with village residents and those from other nearby towns.

Mustafa said that when he returned home, he felt short of breath because of his alleged exposure to the gas.

Eventually Mustafa and his family were captured and held in a prison before being transferred to the southern Nugrat Salman detention camp.

``For the first three days of our arrival we were without food and water, then we received salty water and (prison) bread,'' Mustafa said.

During his five month imprisonment, Mustafa said he saw guards ``kill a man with a steel cable'' and that at up to 500 people died, most of them elderly. He did not elaborate.

The court appointed a defense attorney for al-Tai, a former defense minister, and asked the witness how the other 3,000 to 4,000 prisoners in Nugrat Salman jail escaped chemical weapons.

But al-Tai abruptly stood up and said: ``I don't acknowledge this attorney. He does not represent me.'' The judge told al-Tai to sit down and be quiet.