Saddam Hussein's trial to resume today
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Saddam Hussein's trial to resume today

The trial of Saddam Hussein and seven aides on charges of crimes against humanity will resume in a fortified Baghdad courtroom.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2005 14:03 IST

The trial of Saddam Hussein and seven aides on charges of crimes against humanity will resume in a fortified Baghdad courtroom on Monday, with a handful of witnesses expected to take the stand for the first time.

After the assassination of two defence lawyers, a plot to kill the chief investigator and threats against witnesses, security for the court proceedings is intense.

Some evidence will be heard from behind protective screens in the courtroom in Baghdad's fortress-like "green zone", and television images from the courtroom will be delayed 30 minutes.

When the trial began on October 19, it was adjourned for 40 days after just three hours to give the defence more time to prepare. On that day, a defiant Saddam questioned the legitimacy of the court but in the end pleaded "not guilty" like his aides.

The trial was expected to resume at around 0700 GMT on Monday, although no specific time has been set -- one of the many security measures designed to thwart potential attacks.

At the opening, the chief judge -- head of a five-judge panel -- is expected to consider various outstanding defence motions, including one for another adjournment of up to three months to continue preparing for such a legally complex trial.

The defence also might still need time to discuss strategy after the last-minute addition to their team of two international observers, former US attorney general Ramsey Clark and Najeeb al-Nauimi, former justice minister of Qatar.

Critics have accused Saddam of ordering mass killings and widespread torture over decades, but the legal charges brought against him so far refer to one specific incident.

He and the other defendants are charged with ordering the deaths of 148 young Shi'ite men from the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, following an attempt on Saddam's life in July 1982.

The defendants could face death by hanging if found guilty.

While the judge has said around 30 witnesses could testify in the case, only a handful will likely appear on Monday.

Residents of Dujail said at the weekend that death threats had already been made against some witnesses.

Security concerns

Most of the 40-day break has been dominated by security issues after one defence lawyer was murdered the day after the trial began and another on November 8, throwing proceedings into chaos. A third fled Iraq after death threats.

An Iraqi police chief told Reuters on the eve of the resumption that eight men had been detained and had confessed to plotting to kill the court's chief investigator, Raed Jouhi.

As chief investigator of the tribunal, Jouhi built the case against Saddam and has been the public face of the tribunal.

The 10 or so Iraqi lawyers still involved in representing the eight defendants have agreed to return to court only after promises of undisclosed improvements in security were made.

Another adjournment is possible. One defence lawyer said the team would seek at least a further
three-month delay.

If that motion is rejected, the case could proceed for at least three days this week, but national elections set for Dec. 15 adds to the argument for a quick adjournment.

A defence team spokeswoman said the attendance of Clark and Nauimi had been approved by US advisers to the court. But an official close to the court said on Sunday no application had yet been made by the defence team for international observers.

Clark, a controversial figure, was the US government's top legal official in the late 1960s before becoming an anti-Vietnam war activist and later a defender of figures including Slobodan Milosevic, on trial for war crimes at The Hague.

He said before leaving Amman for the Iraqi capital on Sunday that he hoped to strengthen Saddam's defence.

"Our plan is to go to court in Baghdad on Monday morning representing the defence counsel as defence support," he said.

"A fair trial in this case is absolutely imperative for historical truth," said 77-year-old Clark, who has also offered advice to former Liberian leader Charles Taylor in the past.

"It is absolutely essential that the court is legal in its constitution. A court cannot be a court unless it is absolutely independent of all external pressures and forces," he said.

First Published: Nov 28, 2005 14:01 IST