Prague, 5 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Saddam Hussein and seven of his senior deputies who are on trial on charges of crimes against humanity chanted loudly during today's hearing in Baghdad, and Hussein's defense team walked out of the courtroom in protest as the defendants repeated, "Long Live Iraq. Long live Iraq. Long Live the Arab nation."
The walkout came after former U.S. Attorney General Clark attempted to challenge the legitimacy of the Iraqi court. The tribunal was formed specifically to try Hussein and his most senior deputies on charges of crimes against humanity.
In the case now being heard by the court, the defendants are accused of ordering the massacre of 148 people from the Shi'ite village of Al-Dujayl in 1982. If convicted, all of the defendants could face the death penalty.
The Court's Legitimacy
Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin rejected claims that his court is not legitimate.
"The court's oral reply is that it is a legitimate court, set up under a law approved by a legally elected legislature," Amin said.
Amin told Clark that under Iraqi law, all attorneys must address the court in Arabic. He also told the defense lawyers to submit their complaints in writing. And he warned that a walkout by the defense team could lead the court to replace them.
Hussein then issued his own challenge to the court's legitimacy -- saying it is an "imposed court" that is now trying to "impose lawyers" on him.
"[We reject the appointment] of court employees to defend us while you don't allow the defense lawyer [Ramsey Clark] to defend," Hussein said. "Is this justice?"
When Judge Amin replied that his ruling is in accordance with Iraqi law, Hussein argued that the law was made by the United States and does not reflect Iraqi sovereignty.
Security For Lawyers
The trial resumed later on 5 December after the lawyers' protest. Clark returned to the courtroom with the other defense attorneys and was allowed to briefly address the court in English through a translator. But Amin stopped Clark when he tried to argue that a fair trial is impossible without ensuring the security of the defense attorneys and their families.
"Your honor, I have not been afforded a meaningful opportunity to present this matter and I consider it a denial of the right to affective assistance of council," Clark said. "You've given me practically no time. The defense cannot participate in this case until there is protection in place for these lawyers and their families."
Hussein's chief lawyer expanded the defense argument with a claim that the trial is a violation of international law and that Hussein should be afforded all of the protections of a prisoner of war under international conventions like the Geneva accords. Al-Dulaimi said that if the charges against Hussein are mass murder, the case should be heard by an international court where attorneys from any country can participate in any language.
Later on 5 December, the first witness to speak in full view of the court began testifying. Ahmed Hassan Mohammed al-Dujaili, a well-known member of the Shi'ite Dawa Party, spoke about the torture and killing of his relatives and neighbors at Al-Dujayl in 1982. Other witnesses are scheduled to give evidence from behind a screen because of security concerns.
A protester in Baghdad carries a picture of a relative killed at Al-Dujayl (AFP file photo)
Former Iraqi dictator SADDAM HUSSEIN
and seven of his associates went on trial on October 19, 2005, on charges of crimes against humanity for the regime's role in the deaths of 148 residents from the town of Al-Dujayl, and the imprisonment of 1,500 others following a botched assassination attempt against Hussein there on July 8, 1982. Following the arrests and deportations, the regime leveled the town... (more)
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