Hussein Is Unruly as Trial Resumes
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
BAGHDAD, Nov. 28 -- Saddam Hussein, the dictator who once held the power of life and death over millions of Iraqis, was reduced Monday to squabbling over pens and paper during his trial on charges of ordering wholesale executions during his rule.
Scowling and jabbing, Hussein used the defendant's dock as a pulpit from which to lecture the judge on how to treat foreigners. He complained that while being brought to the courtroom by U.S. guards, he had been handcuffed, forced to walk up flights of stairs and stripped of papers and writing implements.
When the chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said he would tell the guards to give him writing implements, Hussein thundered: "Don't tell them -- I want you to order them! They are foreigners and occupiers and invaders."
The grievances that led to Hussein's bluster paled in comparison with the charges that could send him to the hangman and with the symbolic importance of the trial to Iraq's stumbling new democracy. The ousted president left it to his lawyer to challenge the validity of the U.S.-engineered tribunal, and, outside the court, newly arrived co-counsel Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general, questioned the likelihood of Hussein getting a fair trial.
At the end of the day's proceedings, the trial was recessed until Dec. 5 to give some of Hussein's seven co-defendants time to find replacements for two defense attorneys who were assassinated after the initial court session almost six weeks ago. Some defense attorneys stayed away from the courtroom on Monday, apparently fearing that they, too, would be killed.
Monday's session featured the first testimony against Hussein -- a deathbed videotape of a witness, made without defense lawyers present, one of several trial procedures that legal ethicists have said they find troubling.
The witness, Wadah Ismail Sheik, a former investigator with Iraq's secret police, was shown in his hospital room, tubes and medical monitors strung from his arms, days before he died of cancer. He described how Hussein's bodyguards killed "many" residents of the town of Dujail in July 1982, after Hussein's convoy was attacked by gunmen hiding in a nearby orchard.
Hussein is charged with ordering the execution of 148 Shiite residents of Dujail to punish them for the attack. Prosecutors have said they will bring broader charges, ultimately involving hundreds of thousands of deaths under Hussein's rule, if he is not convicted and executed first.
Sheik described the roundup of more than 400 people in the town. Some were executed, and others spent several years in prison before being released. "The number of people who attacked the convoy did not exceed 12," he said. "I don't know why this large number of people were arrested."
The prosecution began its case with videotaped news clips of Hussein in Dujail after the assassination attempt. The clips showed a younger, uniformed Hussein coldly inspecting suspects, brushing aside their protestations of innocence. "Separate them for interrogation," he was shown saying brusquely.
During breaks in the trial, Hussein joked with his Iraqi guards and chatted amicably with his co-defendants, who are charged with helping carry out the punishment of Dujail. The men traded observations about the food and recreation areas in prison. "There's an eye on me 24 hours a day," Hussein was heard to complain.
During one afternoon break, Hussein read from a poem he had apparently composed during the morning sessions. "We help the weak, but when we strike, we strike the elite," the poem read in part.