By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
BAGHDAD, Feb. 13 -- Saddam Hussein reluctantly returned to the courtroom on Monday morning after boycotting his trial's previous session. But after initial protests, the deposed Iraqi dictator watched with a smile as two former lieutenants called to the witness stand refused to help his prosecutors' case.
Apart from a three-way exchange among Hussein, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim and Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman at the outset of the proceedings, the session was among the most placid since the trial of Hussein and seven co-defendants began in October. It was a marked contrast to Hussein's last appearance, on Jan. 29, at which Ibrahim was dragged out fighting with guards and Hussein and his legal team stormed out of the courtroom.
Hussein did not attend the court session that followed and said on Monday that he had been forced to return to his trial. He said he wished "shame and degradation" on Abdel-Rahman for ordering him to appear.
During the three-hour session, prosecutors produced documents from Hussein's reign in an attempt to link him to the killings of more than 140 Iraqis from the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt against him there in 1982.
As the court reckoned with crimes of the past, other Iraqis contended with the violence of the present. A bomb packed with ball bearings exploded outside a busy bank in the New Baghdad neighborhood of the capital on Monday morning, killing as many as 15 Iraqis and wounding about 30 others, U.S. military authorities said in a statement.
An Associated Press report citing an Iraqi police officer said that a suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt after joining a line of Iraqis waiting to receive money from the government in lieu of food rations. The officer said eight Iraqis had been killed.
Eleven other people were killed in attacks elsewhere in Iraq, the AP said, including four Iraqi police officers. Gunmen also attempted to assassinate Aiham Alsammarae, a former electricity minister, but he escaped, the Sunni politician told al-Arabiya television in an interview Monday.
Hussein came to court looking tired and wearing a dark coat, a blue-gray traditional dishdasha gown and bedroom slippers, a change from his usual button-down shirt with no tie. Ibrahim wore a white, henley-style undershirt and long brown underwear, exposing more of his chest than is usually seen in a courtroom. After an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Abdel-Rahman that, as a cancer patient, he should be set free, Ibrahim turned away from the court and sat on the floor for much of the trial.
Hussein repeated his assertion that the court was an illegitimate pawn of the United States and refused to accept the counsel of the defense lawyers appointed by the court after his legal team walked out last month. His defense attorneys are seeking the removal of Abdel-Rahman, who took over the court on Jan. 29 warning that he would not tolerate the outbursts that have frequently interrupted the trial.
"While we thank the lawyers who have been appointed for our defense, we do have our own lawyers who were withdrawn when they were assaulted right in front of you here," Hussein told Abdel-Rahman.
"This charge is not true, and no one was assaulted," Abdel-Rahman answered.
"This is not a court," Hussein shouted. "This is a game."
The prosecutors asked two members of Hussein's former government -- his presidential office chief, Ahmed Samarraie, and an intelligence officer, Hassan Obeidi -- to discuss their role in the killings and confirm their knowledge of the documents.
But both men, the first Hussein officials to testify in the case, professed ignorance and said they had been forced to appear in court against their will.
"I don't remember anything because so many memos were going up and down," Samarraie said.
"In 1982, I was a low-ranking officer in Iraqi intelligence working in the legal department, and that had nothing to do with the Dujail case," Obeidi said.
Hussein smiled and occasionally snickered as the prosecutors made little headway. At the end of their testimony, he left the courtroom appearing in better spirits than when he had entered. The trial is to continue Tuesday.
Al-Arabiya, meanwhile, broadcast a new video of two German engineers kidnapped on Jan. 24. The network's newscaster said their captors, the Tawhid and Sunnah Brigade, warned that it was the "last chance" to meet their demands or they would kill their hostages, Thomas Nitschke and Rene Braeunlich. In a previous tape, the group called on the German government to cut all ties with Iraq.
In London, British military police said Monday that they had arrested a man in their investigation of a video that allegedly showed British soldiers beating prisoners in Iraq in 2004, the AP reported. The Defense Ministry declined to identify the man, who was arrested Sunday night.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim, Omar Fekeiki and Bassam Sebti in Baghdad and Hassan Shammari in Baqubah contributed to this report.