M A I N   N E W S

Saddam defiant at trial
Challenges legitimacy of the court

Baghdad, October 19
A defiant Saddam Hussein today refused to give his name and challenged the legitimacy of the court, but then pleaded “not guilty” as he went on trial for crimes against humanity allegedly committed two decades ago.

Grey-bearded and wearing a dark jacket over an open-necked white shirt, Saddam hectored the chief judge from his seat inside a white metal pen on the marble courtroom floor.

Asked his name by the judge, Saddam, 68, shot back: “You know me. You are an Iraqi and you know who I am.

“I won’t answer to this so-called court...Who are you? What are you? The occupation is illegitimate,” Saddam said. “I retain my constitutional rights as the President of Iraq.”

The judge said: “You are Saddam Hussein al-Majid, former President of Iraq”, at which point Saddam raised his finger to interrupt, saying testily: “I did not say former President”.

Shortly afterwards, the judge informed the defendants that the charges included murder, torture and forced expulsion, saying that the crimes could carry the death penalty, and informed them of their rights, including that of a fair trial.

Asked to plead, each in turn, Saddam first, said: “Not guilty”.

Saddam was the last to enter the courtroom as proceedings began shortly after midday and asked the jailers escorting him to slow down as he walked to his spot facing the panel of five judges. He carried an old copy of the Koran.

Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, a Kurd, presided from a raised dais looking down on the defendants. Bronze-coloured scales of justice hung behind the judges. Of the judges, only Amin’s face was shown on TV, and he conducted all questioning.

“This is the first session of case number one, the case of Dujail,” Amin told the court at the start, referring to the town where bloody reprisals against more than 140 Shi’ite Muslim men followed an attempt on Saddam’s life on July 8, 1982.

Nearly two years after he was found hiding in a hole in the ground near where he was born, Saddam and seven other members of his now-defunct Baath Party are now on trial for those events.

Prosecutors will try to show that Saddam, in retaliation for the botched assassination attempt, ordered his henchmen to hunt down, torture and kill scores of men from Dujail, on that July day and in the days, weeks and years that followed.

The defence is expected to petition the judges for an adjournment saying it has not had enough time to prepare for the trial and arguing that the court, established during the US occupation in 2003, is illegitimate.

The hearing may last only a few hours if the judges accept an adjournment request.

Iraq’s government, led by long-time enemies of Saddam and looking for popularity ahead of elections in December, hopes the trial will boost the morale of Iraqis struggling against the hardships of the insurgency 2-1/2 years after the war began.

Human rights groups have expressed unease about perceptions of “victor’s justice”, warning that the trial must not only be fair, but be seen to be fair, and raising concerns about the legitimacy of a body set up during US occupation.

In London, legal expert and barrister Jonathan Goldberg, speaking to CNN, cast doubt on the proceedings. “It’s probably not a fair trial by American or European standards,” he said. “The whole thing is a bit of a public relations circus.”

The eyes of the world were on the trial, being televised with around a 30-minute delay, not just to capture the moment that Saddam stood in the dock, but to see whether Iraq under its new leadership can fairly try its deposed dictator.

Death penalty

If found guilty, Saddam could be hanged. Under tribunal statutes, any sentence should be carried out within 30 days of appeals being exhausted. That means Saddam could be executed before being tried on other charges such as genocide against the Kurds.

In a statement posted on the Internet on Tuesday, people calling themselves members of the Baath Party urged Saddam’s followers to rise up and defy the court with gunfire.

In Baghdad and areas to the west, mortar rounds landed near US military bases, and in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown, dozens of young men rallied and chanted in support of the ex-president.

“The trial is unfair,” said Tikrit student Dawud Farham, aged 18. “They should put on trial those who are tearing apart Iraq and its people.”

Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam’s chief lawyer, has said he will challenge the court’s legitimacy and ask for more time to study the 800 pages of evidence collected by investigators over the past two years. The defence received them just 45 days ago.

He may also argue that Saddam has presidential immunity.

The charges stem from the 1982 attack when gunmen linked to the Shi’ite Dawa Party tried to kill Saddam as his armoured convoy drove through Dujail, 60 km north of Baghdad.

Apart from the men said to have been killed in reprisal, women and children are alleged to have been removed from Dujail, taken to Abu Ghraib prison and later interned in a desert camp near the Saudi border where many ultimately “disappeared”. — Reuters

HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |