Prosecutor Seeks Death for Hussein

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

BAGHDAD, June 19 -- The chief prosecutor in the trial of Saddam Hussein rested his case Monday with a dispassionate recounting of the deaths of 148 people from an Iraqi village, then a call for the ultimate penalty against the former Iraqi president and two subordinates.

"They showed no mercy for women, children, and even the trees were not safe from their oppression," said prosecutor Jafar al-Mousawi in a Baghdad courtroom, a hint of bitterness entering his voice. "The law calls for the death penalty, and this is what we ask be implemented."

"Well done," Hussein muttered sarcastically from his seat a few feet away.

The trial on charges of crimes against humanity -- the killing of residents of the Shiite Muslim village of Dujail after a failed assassination attempt on Hussein there -- entered its final phase with the prosecution recommending sentences for the eight co-defendants. The prosecutor also called for the deaths of Barzan Ibrahim, Hussein's half-brother and the former Iraqi intelligence chief, and Taha Yassin Ramadan, the country's former vice president.

The prosecutor said a fourth defendant, Awad Haman Bander, a judge who presided over a court that issued death warrants for the people in Dujail, should also be sentenced for murder, but he did not explicitly say what that sentence should be. The prosecutor asked Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman to abandon the charges against three of the remaining four defendants and reduce the sentence of the fourth.

Since it began in October, the Hussein trial has endured frequent disruptions. Defendants walked out and mocked the trial as illegitimate. Judges resigned and two defense attorneys were assassinated. The court adjourned after Monday's session until July 10, when the defense will offer its closing statements.

In previous sessions of the trial, Hussein's side has variously maintained that the executions were a legal, and legitimate, response to an attempt on the life of a head of state and that many people said to have been killed are in fact still alive.

The Dujail killings are the first acts for which the deposed president is being prosecuted. He is separately accused of leading a chemical attack that killed an estimated 5,000 ethnic Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988 and of ordering a brutal crackdown on a Shiite rebellion after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Monday's session began with attorneys for the families of the dead villagers reviewing their evidence against Hussein. They said that in July 1982, a convoy carrying Hussein came under fire from an orchard in the village, but they played down the incident's significance. One attorney denied it entirely: "The assassination attempt was merely an imaginary, Machiavellian invention by Saddam Hussein," the attorney said.

In response to the gunfire, the prosecutor said, Hussein launched a "widespread, systematic attack against civilians" that included firing on the village from helicopters, draining and bulldozing orchards, and arresting hundreds of people.

Those who survived the initial attack and alleged torture in prison, the prosecutor said, were referred to a revolutionary court in an order signed by Hussein. After a two-week trial in 1984, at which none of the defendants was present, the court ordered 148 people to be put to death by hanging -- an order that was confirmed by a presidential decree two days later, according to the prosecutor. In all, 48 people ages 12 to 19 were killed, he said.

"The court was a fake, imaginary court," the prosecutor said.

He said Ibrahim, as the head of Iraq's intelligence service at the time, led the brutal investigation. According to the prosecution, Bander issued the death sentences for the 148 people and Ramadan received direct orders from Hussein to use his militia to lead the operations in Dujail.

Ramadan "ordered the officials in Dujail to destroy the houses and loot the property and destroy the orchards, which left the people of Dujail living in poverty," the prosecutor said. "Ramadan watched the operation from a hill."

In the courtroom, the prosecution described the Dujail killings as genocide and violations of U.N. human rights conventions and Iraqi law. The prosecution said that at least a dozen other people still in hiding are wanted in connection with the killings.

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