Hussein, Co-Defendants Watch Their Trial on TV

The defendants dock sits empty after the judge in Saddam Hussein's trial for crimes against humanity barred all eight of the accused men from court.
The defendants dock sits empty after the judge in Saddam Hussein's trial for crimes against humanity barred all eight of the accused men from court. (Pool Photo/by Darko Bandic -- Getty Images)
By Jonathan Finer and K.I. Ibrahim
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 3, 2006

BAGHDAD, Feb. 2 -- Barred from entering the courtroom by a stern new judge tired of his antics, Saddam Hussein watched his own trial unfold on closed-circuit television Thursday from a courthouse chamber.

It was the latest and one of the strangest twists in the often-delayed trial of the former Iraqi president, which centers on the massacre of 148 residents of Dujail, a town north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against Hussein there in 1982. After two hours of testimony from witnesses, the proceedings were adjourned until Feb. 13.

The defendants' dock at the Iraqi High Tribunal was empty, as neither the former dictator nor his attorneys nor the seven others accused of crimes against humanity in the case appeared in court. Five of the defendants -- Hussein, Taha Yassin Ramadan, Barzan Ibrahim, Mizher Abdullah Ruweid and Awad Haman Bander -- were barred because of their refusal to attend Wednesday's session, Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman said.

"The court has decided to keep them away from the court in the current session and to continue to examine the case against them," he said. The three other defendants were kept away because "they caused chaos and noise outside the courtroom," the judge said, without specifying when those disruptions occurred.

Six court-appointed attorneys replaced the usual defense team. The defendants' attorneys have repeatedly accused Abdel-Rahman of being biased against their clients and said they would not return to court unless he resigned from the case. Abdel-Rahman is an ethnic Kurd from a northern village where about 5,000 people died in a 1988 poison gas attack by Iraqi forces.

Abdel-Rahman replaced a judge who resigned last month after being heavily criticized for letting outbursts from the defendants dominate the trial. The new judge has been far less tolerant of such interruptions.

On Thursday, Khalil Dulaimi, Hussein's lead attorney, also called for the dismissal of a pair of prosecutors, according to wire service reports.

During the session, which was adjourned after about two hours of testimony, two witnesses graphically described torture during the crackdown on Dujail.

The first witness, who testified from behind a curtain to conceal his identity, said he watched his father being beaten by a man who he later learned was Barzan Ibrahim, Hussein's half brother and co-defendant, who once led Iraq's intelligence service. Other defendants were described as having watched beatings, although as in most previous sessions, Hussein was not directly linked to the assaults.

The defendants' absence from the courtroom is likely to fuel criticism from some Iraqis and international observers that the trial is spiraling out of control. In addition to the first presiding judge's resignation, the proceedings have been marred by repeated delays and the assassination of two defense attorneys. Human rights organizations have called for relocation of the trial outside the country.

Hussein and some co-defendants watched Thursday's proceedings "with great interest," according to a Western official close to the court who would not specify which defendants, other than Hussein, chose to watch.

Defendants wishing to question witnesses, as permitted under the rules of the tribunal, were allowed to write questions to be forwarded to the attorneys, the official said. He would not say whether any had done so.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company