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Saddam Refuses to Attend Trial Session
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Author:  MuDVaYnE [ Thu Feb 02, 2006 2:08 am ]
Post subject:  Saddam Refuses to Attend Trial Session

Saddam Refuses to Attend Trial Session By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 17 minutes ago

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein and four other defendants refused to attend their trial Wednesday, and their defense attorneys boycotted the proceedings, demanding the removal of the chief judge they claim is biased against the former Iraqi leader.

Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman pressed ahead with court-appointed defense lawyers and only three defendants present, hearing five prosecution witnesses. After a 4 1/2-hour session, the trial was adjourned until Thursday.

Abdel-Rahman first held a half-hour closed session Wednesday, barring media from the courtroom. It was not clear whether Saddam was brought in for the closed hearing, and court officials did not say what took place.

Saddam and four other co-defendants were not present when the session was opened to the public.

One witness — a woman whose identity was withheld and who spoke from behind a beige curtain — testified that she was arrested by Saddam's security forces and tortured in prison.

She said she was stripped naked, hung by her feet and kicked repeatedly in the chest by Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's intelligence chief at the time and the top co-defendant in the trial.

"What crime have we all committed to go through this agony?" she said.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi asked the judge to force all defendants to attend. Abdel-Rahman ruled that the court proceedings would continue but that the five-judge panel would consider the request in future hearings.

Abdel-Rahman then turned to the three remaining defendants, surrounded by empty chairs in the pen set up in front of the bench.

"Because your lawyers stayed away and dropped your cases, the court has decided to appoint the lawyers who are in the courtroom," he told them.

"I have a lawyer. I paid 16 million dinars!" exclaimed defendant Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid. The sum is about $8,000.

Abdel-Rahman raised his hand sharply to interrupt him.

"If your lawyers attend the next sessions, they will take their positions as your attorneys," he said. "Until they attend, you will be having the gentlemen who are in the courtroom now to defend your rights."

The boycott by the defendants and lawyers is the latest problem to plague Saddam's tumultuous trial, which in its previous eight sessions saw numerous delays, a shake-up among the judges, and outbursts by Saddam and Ibrahim, his half brother.

Abdel-Rahman was brought in as chief judge Sunday to replace a predecessor who resigned amid criticism he was not doing enough to control the proceedings.

In a stormy session Sunday, Abdel-Rahman took a tough line, throwing out Ibrahim and a defense lawyer. The entire defense team walked out in protest and Saddam was escorted out after he rejected new court-appointed attorneys.

Now Abdel-Rahman must decide how long to continue the trial without most of the defendants and with court-appointed lawyers — who have already come under criticism for being too passive. On Sunday, they declined to cross-examine any of the witnesses.

Saddam's defense lawyers have said they would not attend the trial until Abdel-Rahman is removed. The former Iraqi leader and four other defendants have refused to work with the replacement lawyers.

Saddam's chief attorney, Khaled al-Dulaimi, who stayed in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Wednesday, criticized the court for holding the closed session. He did not know whether Saddam was forced to attend the closed portion.

"It's dangerous to hold a closed-door hearing. Our clients may be forced to attend, they may coerced, and this is illegal," he told The Associated Press. "The trial is unfair and the judge is acting on behalf of the prosecution, which means that he has lost impartiality."

The defense team accuses Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd, of having a "personal feud" with Saddam because the judge was born in the village of Halabja, which was subjected to a 1988 poison gas attack allegedly ordered by Saddam. Some 5,000 Kurds were killed in that attack, including several of Abdel-Rahman's relatives.

Speaking Wednesday to Al-Jazeera television, al-Dulaimi also said Saddam's regime tried Abdel-Rahman in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison in 1977. He said the judge was a member of a Kurdish opposition party that "was an enemy to my client."

Al-Dulaimi's claims could not be immediately confirmed.

"During our search in the archives, we have found that (Abdel-Rahman) has a personal and political feud with President Saddam Hussein and the (Baathist) command," al-Dulaimi said.

Saddam and co-defendants are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shiites after a 1982 attempt on his life in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad. They face death by hanging if convicted.

Arab media reports claimed Abdel-Rahman was detained and tortured in the 1980s by Saddam's security agents. Efforts to contact Abdel-Rahman were unsuccessful.

However, another judge who is not part of the Dujail trial said Abdel-Rahman suffered permanent injuries to his back and one of his legs due to torture. The judge spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the Saddam case.

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