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Saddam defence witnesses attack prosecution case

The trial of ousted Iraqi leader is to resume with more defence witness testimony seeking to discredit the prosecution's case.

india Updated: May 31, 2006 12:41 IST

The trial of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was to resume on Wednesday with more defence witness testimony seeking to discredit the prosecution's case that he was instrumental in the killing and torture of Shiite villagers after an attempt on his life in 1982.

Witnesses on Tuesday testified that not only had the chief prosecutor gone to the village of Dujail in 2004 to coach witnesses and offer financial incentives, but many of the alleged victims were actually still alive.

Saddam and his seven co-defendants are charged with arresting and torturing hundreds of people in Dujail -- and executing 148 of them -- following the assassination bid there.

"The prosecutor said they were executed but I am telling you I ate with them some time ago" and 23 of them were alive, said one witness, who was a teenager in Dujail at the time.

The testimony represents a departure in the defence case, which previously looked either to distance the defendants from the events or present them as a justifiable response to an assassination attempt on a head of state.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi, who has distinguished himself in recent sessions by his vigorous cross-examinations of witnesses, has come under particular attack, accused of going to Dujail to try to fabricate the case.

At a July 2004 gathering in Dujail, testified the anonymous witness, "someone came and asked for witnesses, saying the Iranians will thank them and if they don't have the necessary documents he could forge them," he said, identifying Mussawi as that person.

"I just want to clarify this for the records," retorted Mussawi. "I was born in Baghdad and I never went to Dujail. On July 8, 2004, I wasn't a prosecutor, I had nothing to do with the court."

But as he made these assertions, Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya broadcast a videotape showing him attending a meeting in Dujail hosted by many of the people who went on to testify against Saddam in the trial.

"If it is true and these people are still alive, this whole case should be reconsidered from the beginning," said the lawyer for Awad al-Bandar, whose revolutionary court sentenced the men to death in 1984.

A second witness, a shepherd from Dujail, also said many of the people that had supposedly been killed were still living.

"This name is supposed to have been executed, but he is now having a son and he has married twice. I was invited to his wedding in May," said the witness, who also testified anonymously.

One of the defence lawyers, meanwhile, said a defence witness who testified recently had been killed, a claim that could not be confirmed.

Throughout the trial, the defence has claimed that witnesses against the ousted president and his co-defendants were coached and induced to testify.

The eight defendants, who went on trial in October last year, face execution by hanging if found guilty of charges of crimes against humanity including murder and torture.

The trial has been marred by the murder of two defence lawyers and the January resignation of the first chief judge, as well as frequent outbursts by Saddam and his co-defendants.

Once defence testimony is complete, defence lawyers will give their closing statements, followed by defendants' final statements, which will mark the end of the trial.

The proceedings could conclude by the end of June, a US official close to the court said last week, with a verdict coming as early as July.

International human rights advocates say the trial, taking place in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone, is being conducted well below international legal standards.