By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 30, 2006
BAGHDAD, Jan. 29 -- Angry tirades and a brawl marked the return of Saddam Hussein to the defendant's dock Sunday, as a new chief judge proved incapable of stopping the disorder that has dominated the trial of Iraq's deposed dictator.
The session, the first in a month, was the most rancorous yet in an already turbulent trial. Barzan Ibrahim, a co-defendant and Hussein's half brother, was dragged out fighting with bailiffs after he insulted the court. Defense attorneys walked out in protest, saying the trial was unfair, and Hussein was escorted from the room after a shouting match with Chief Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman, who declared he would no longer tolerate such behavior.
Abdel-Rahman appointed new defense attorneys and resumed the trial with the remaining six co-defendants, who are accused of killing more than 140 people in retaliation for an assassination attempt against Hussein in 1982. The court heard testimony from three witnesses, and after five hours, the trial adjourned until Wednesday.
The courtroom chaos left the trial a shambles. International observers had already questioned the fairness of a trial in which two defense attorneys were assassinated and three of the original five judges departed. Now it is unclear whether Hussein and his attorneys will return for the next court session.
A trial official said at a news conference that the lawyers would have to ask to be readmitted and that Hussein might be compelled to come against his wishes.
"The court controls the session; it is not according to Saddam's will," said the trial official, who spoke on the condition he not be named. "Everything is going according to law."
The head of Hussein's defense team demanded that the trial be moved abroad.
"In view of the biased policies adopted by the court's chief judge to push for a quick conviction, we are demanding that the trial be moved outside Iraq to put an end to this farce," Khalil Dulaimi told the Reuters news service.
Abdel-Rahman, who replaced Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin after the latter resigned, made it clear at the outset that he would not tolerate the political speeches and insults that have frequently interrupted the trial since it opened in October.
"Political speeches outside the scope are for outside the court," Abdel-Rahman said. "Any speeches outside the scope will be deleted from the minutes of the court. Any defendant who violates the law will be taken outside the courtroom and be tried according to the law."
This rule faced an immediate challenge from Ibrahim, who stood up from his seat in the rear of the courtroom. "I am satisfied to deal with the court in spite of my conviction that the court is illegitimate," he said.
"You mentioned a word -- what was it?" Abdel-Rahman asked.
"I said this court is a bastard," Ibrahim said.
"You are a defendant standing before a judicial authority," Abdel-Rahman said. "I ask you to utter polite terms."
"I don't mean it in a common way," Ibrahim replied, criticizing the judge's "military" manner and gesturing theatrically.
Ibrahim continued with a lengthy speech, saying he had developed cancer and had not been given proper treatment. Abdel-Rahman interrupted and ordered Ibrahim to sit down, but Ibrahim angrily refused, shouting and gesturing wildly. Losing patience, Abdel-Rahman threatened to throw Ibrahim out of the court.
Bailiffs surrounded Ibrahim, and when he would not take his seat they grabbed him by both arms and dragged him out. Ibrahim, shouting with rage, fought the guards. Hussein stood up, chanting "Long live Iraq, long live Iraq!" The audience watched, stunned by the spectacle, and guards made a feeble attempt to maintain order.
"We've had enough of this!" Abdel-Rahman bellowed, pounding his gavel. "Have your seats!"
But his commands went unheeded. The judge, the lawyers and Hussein all shouted at one another as pandemonium gripped the courtroom. During this fracas, one of the defense attorneys was also forcibly removed from the room.
"Those who want to sit, then sit," Abdel-Rahman said. "Those who want to go, get out." The defense attorneys marched out of the courtroom, and after a pause in which it was unclear whether the proceedings would resume, six court-appointed lawyers were brought in.
Hussein, wearing a blue suit and a dress shirt with no necktie, refused to accept the new defense attorneys and accused the court, as he has before, of being a pawn of the U.S. government.
"What do we have to do with the Americans?" Abdel-Rahman responded. "To hell with the Americans. This is an Iraqi court formed by an Iraqi law."
"No, not by Iraqi law," Hussein replied. "It's American, the court and its law. The lawyer is the right of the defendant. You cannot force me to be in the court. It is my right to leave, and your right to sentence me in absentia. Does the law say the defendant should stay in the court?"
After Abdel-Rahman continued trying to make Hussein accept the court-appointed attorneys, Hussein turned to the lawyers and said, "If you stay here, you are evil." Then he turned to the judge and shouted: "Don't force me! This is my right. I will continue to respect you as an Iraqi. Allow me to leave because I cannot take it anymore."
"Take him out of the courtroom," Abdel-Rahman ordered.
"I ruled you for 35 years and now you say, 'Take him out of the room?' " Hussein replied, wagging his finger at the judge. "Shame on you. I have decided to leave. I talked to you in legal language and you didn't listen. You are an Iraqi. It is not allowed to say, 'Take him out of the room,' about Saddam Hussein. Is this how a position changes people?"
After calling Hussein an "old man," Abdel-Rahman enforced his order. Hussein walked out, casting scornful glares around the courtroom. He was escorted by two guards who did not touch him.
There were no reports of protests demanding Hussein's execution, or in his support, as there have been during other trial days. But a rocket killed a former Iraqi general living in Tikrit, Hussein's home town north of Baghdad, when it struck his house.
As in the past, the courtroom theatrics overshadowed the testimony of the three witnesses against Hussein, who, like their predecessors, described suffering brutal punishments at the hands of the Hussein government.
A woman who spoke while concealed behind a beige curtain said she and her family had been imprisoned for four years after the assassination attempt. After enduring torture with electric shock at the police station, she said, they spent 11 months in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where they were frequently put into solitary cells.
"When the baby cried, he took it and put it in the solitary cell," she said of a guard. "It was 2 years old. The food and treatment were beyond description."
Special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and Bassam Sebti contributed to this report.