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Saddam's defence to give closing arguments

india Updated: Jul 10, 2006 14:40 IST

The last phase of the turbulent trial of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity was to resume on Monday with defence lawyers set to give closing arguments without a key team member.

Saddam and seven former cohorts are charged with crimes including torture and murder over the execution of 148 Shiites from the town of Dujail after the former president escaped an assassination bid there.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi said the last phase of the trial "may take two to three days but no more".

During the trial, which opened in October, the prosecution argued that the arrests, imprisonment, executions of inhabitants, as well as the destruction of property were crimes against humanity

The defence has insisted it was a legitimate action against those responsible for planning to murder the head of state.

If convicted, Saddam and others will face execution by hanging.

The trial, described by experts as falling short of international standards, has been marred by the murder of three defence lawyers and the resignation of the first chief judge in January, as well as frequent outbursts by the defendants.

On Monday the defence team will be without one of its key members, Khamis al-Obeidi, the third defence lawyer to be killed since the trial began.

Last month Obeidi, 49, was snatched by about 20 men from his Baghdad home and was later shot dead and dumped at a traffic roundabout.

International human rights activists called Obeidi's murder a severe blow to the trial.

"Killing him at a time when the defence team was to present its final remarks is a big blow to the defence and the trial itself," Nehal Bhuta of New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

But the chief prosecutor disagreed.

"It will not affect the proceedings at all; the lawyers have had enough time to prepare," said Mussawi, who has become something of a hero to the Shiite community as the man who will be able to send Saddam and his aides to the gallows.

In his closing arguments on June 19, Mussawi demanded the death penalty for Saddam and two other defendants.

"We demand the maximum punishment for Saddam, (his half-brother and former head of intelligence) Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and (former vice president) Taha Yassin Ramadan," Mussawi said.

"The charges against the defendants are of murder, extreme deprivation of people's rights, torture and forcibly hiding people. These are crimes against humanity because it has happened under a wide assault and was organised by authorities against a group of citizens."

Mussawi also said Saddam admitted being responsible for the Dujail inquiry that led to the deaths of the villagers.

"Saddam's signature is on the document approving the death sentence on 148 people, and he admitted ordering the destruction of orchards in Dujail after the assassination attempt," Mussawi said.

But Saddam accused the current government of forging the documents as the two sides traded accusations that witnesses were bribed to testify in favour of the prosecution.

Mussawi has asked that charges be dropped against defendant Mohammed Azzam Azzawi, a former official of Saddam's ruling Baath party with responsibility for the Dujail area, and that he be released because of his poor health.

He also asked the court to show leniency to three other local Baath party officials -- Ali Dayeh Ali, Abdullah Khadem Ruweid and his son Mizhar Abdullah Ruweid.

Mussawi left it to the court to decide on the appropriate punishment for Awad Ahmed al-Bander, the former chief judge of the revolutionary court and deputy head of Saddam's office who actually passed the sentence of execution against the Shiites.

After the Dujail case ends, Saddam and six others will go on trial from August 21 on charges of genocide for a brutal campaign against Kurds in the 1980s that left 100,000 people dead.

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