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Saddam's trial delayed amid boycott threat

The resumption of Saddam's trial was delayed with all eight accused looking to boycott the proceedings.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2006 15:22 IST
Ammar Karim (AFP)
Ammar Karim (AFP)

The resumption of the trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was delayed on Thursday with all eight accused looking to boycott the proceedings, a source close to the defendants said.

A court official said he expected the high-profile trial of Saddam and his fellow defendants on crimes against humanity to start by noon, about an hour and a half later than the usual opening time.

Saddam, his defence team, and four other defendants were absent from the hearing on Wednesday after a stormy first session of the trial under new judge Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman on Sunday.

But a source close to the defendants said after Wednesday's hearing that all the accused were seeking to stay away from the next session, underscoring the chaotic nature of the trial since it opened in October.

The eight defendants are on trial over the massacre of 148 Shiites from the village of Dujail after an assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982 and face the death penalty if convicted.

Before the trial resumed on Wednesday, the boycotting defence team laid out 11 conditions for its return, including the sacking of the judge and the switching of the trial "to a country which can offer security".

The defence team declared that judge Abdel Rahman must "be removed and cease to have anything to do with the accused because he shows them great hostility".

Saddam's half-brother Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan and former judge of the revolutionary court Awad al-Bandar joined the ousted Iraqi president in boycotting the session after Sunday's stormy hearing.

A former local Baath party official also refused to attend, leaving just three of the original defendants in the dock next to five empty black seats.

A court official said three witnesses could testify on Thursday after the completion of the so-called "complainant witness" phase which heard testimony from those who said they suffered directly at the hands of the defendants.

On Wednesday, five people related the chilling torture tactics which they had endured or witnessed at the hands of the old regime.

The judge, whose tough approach has courted fresh controversy for the court, had maintained that the trial would continue in any case despite the boycott, with the remaining defendants to be tried in absentia.

Barzan, the former head of the secret police under Saddam, featured prominently in Wednesday's testimony, with one female witness describing how he had presided over her torture and humiliation.

"Barzan personally supervised my stripping and then kicked me three times on my naked chest. I still feel the pain and for many years I was unable to breathe," the woman said from behind a curtain.

However, Wednesday's session started only after a three-hour delay and a closed session to sort out a procedural wrangle.

Once the open session began, chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi called for an adjournment of the hearing until such point as the absent defendants could be compelled to attend.

The judge said only that his request would be considered and continued the session, saying that in the absence of the defence team court-appointed attorneys would defend the remaining the accused.

The trial has already come under attack from human rights activists who have cast doubts over its fairness after the previous presiding judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin quit last month.

Several members of parliament and government officials had publicly criticised Amin for what they viewed as his lenient treatment of Saddam and his co-defendants.

The appointment of Abdel Rahman, a magistrate from outside the chamber, is also believed to have irked other judges.

Abdel Rahman, 64, is vice president of the criminal court in the northern town of Arbil and helped found the human rights organisation of the Kurdish autonomous region in 1991.

He was twice arrested by the Iraqi government and at one point was tortured so badly he was partly paralysed.

First Published: Feb 02, 2006 15:22 IST