Saddam trial adjourned until Dec. 5

Violence mars the reopening of the trial after 5-week recess.

saddam in cage 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
saddam in cage 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The chief judge adjourned the trial of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein until December 5 shortly after resuming the trial on Monday, following a five-week recess. The delay was imposed in order to allow time to find replacements for two defense lawyers who were slain, and another who fled the country after he was wounded. Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin issued the order after the court reconvened following a lunchbreak. In a series of violent incidents right before the trial resumed Monday, a number of Westerners were caught up in a series of violent incidents. An American civilian humanitarian aid worker was confirmed kidnapped along with two Canadians and a Briton. Two Britons were killed and three were wounded Monday morning when gunmen attacked a bus carrying Muslim pilgrims south of Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. The gunmen attacked the bus when it neared a checkpoint in the Dora neighborhood, police Capt. Talib Thamir said. The bus was carrying Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims to religious sites south of the capital, he stated. Also Monday morning, a mortar shell fell in central Baghdad's Green Zone, just hours before Saddam Hussein's trial was set to begin. There were no reports of injuries from the shell, which fired from Dora, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majeed said. Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark arrived in Baghdad to help the defense. Tight security surrounded the proceedings, which restarted after a five-week recess in a specially built courtroom in the heavily guarded Green Zone. Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin ordered all handcuffs and shackles removed from the defendants as each entered the court separately. Saddam was the last of the eight to come inside, walking with a swagger, appearing cheerful and greeting people with a traditional Arabic greeting "peace be upon the people of peace." Saddam, dressed in black trousers and a gray jacket, entered about eight minutes after his name was called. On Sunday, Iraqi police arrested eight Sunni Arabs for allegedly plotting to kill the judge who prepared the indictment of Saddam Hussein, authorities said. The eight alleged plotters from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority were apprehended Saturday in the northern city of Kirkuk, police Col. Anwar Qadir said. He said they were carrying written instructions from a former top Saddam deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, ordering them to kill investigating judge Raed Juhi, who prepared the case against Saddam and forwarded it to the trial court in July. Al-Douri is the highest ranking member of the Saddam regime still at large and is believed to be at least the symbolic leader of Saddam loyalists fighting US forces and Iraq's new government. "As an Iraqi citizen and a judge, I am vulnerable to assassination attempts," Juhi told The Associated Press. "If I thought about this danger, then I would not be able to perform my job ... I will practice my profession in a way that serves my country and satisfies my conscience." Saddam and seven co-defendants are charged in the killing of more than 140 Shi'ite Muslims after an assassination attempt against the former president in the Shi'ite town of Dujail in 1982. Convictions could bring a sentence of death by hanging. Insecurity from the predominantly Sunni insurgency has complicated efforts to put Saddam on trial and forced draconian measures. For example, names of four of the five trial judges have been kept secret and some of the 35 witnesses may testify behind curtains to protect them from reprisal. Defense lawyers had threatened to boycott the proceedings after two of their colleagues were slain in two attacks following the opening session October 19. However, lawyer Khamees al-Ubaidi told the AP on Sunday that the defense team would attend after an agreement with US and Iraqi authorities on improving security for them. On the eve of the hearing, Clark and former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nueimi flew to the capital from Amman, Jordan, to lend weight to the defense team. Both have been advising Saddam's lawyers and support their call to have the trial moved out of Iraq because of the violence. However, neither Clark nor al-Nueimi has been officially recognized by the court as legal counsel. US and Iraqi officials said Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, did not officially request permission for any foreign attorneys to attend the trial. Iraqi law permits foreign lawyers to act as advisers but requires that those arguing cases in court must be members of the local bar association. Clark, who served as attorney general under President Johnson, wrote last month that Saddam's rights had been systematically violated since his December 2003 capture, including his right "to a lawyer of his own choosing." Clark and others say a fair trial is impossible in Iraq because of the insurgency and because, they argue, the country is effectively under foreign military occupation. US and Iraqi officials insist the trial will conform to international standards. Still, the trial has unleashed passions in an Iraqi society deeply divided in its judgment of Saddam and his rule. Many of the Sunni Arab insurgent groups include Saddam loyalists, including members of the former ruling Baath party and veterans of both Saddam's personal militia and the Republican Guard. The ousted leader, meanwhile, is vilified by Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority and its Kurdish community, which were oppressed during his rule. On Saturday, hundreds of supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in Baghdad to demand Saddam's execution. Separately, the leader of the biggest Shi'ite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, accused the court of "weakness" for not having sentenced Saddam to death already. He also complained that media attention over allegations of torture by the Shi'ite-led security services had belittled Saddam's alleged crimes. "The court will need all of its strength to resist the pressure," said Miranda Sissons of the International Center for Transitional Justice, an observer at the trial. In an interview with a German magazine, chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin said he pondered moving the trial to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq because of poor security in Baghdad. Iraqi law provides legal steps for moving the court elsewhere in the country. However, Amin, a Kurd, said he decided the capital was secure enough for "regular and fair proceedings," even if "they are admittedly difficult."