Saddam trial resumes after two-week break; former leader in attendance

While defiant and aggressive in previous sessions, the deposed president appeared calm and attentive.

hussein on trial 298 (photo credit: AP)
hussein on trial 298
(photo credit: AP)
Saddam Hussein showed up Wednesday for the resumption of his trial two weeks after he refused to attend the last session, saying he would not appear before an "unjust" court. Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. The deposed president, who was wearing a dark suit but no tie on Wednesday, refused to attend the previous session on December 7. "I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!" he said in an outburst in court the day before. His behavior was calm during the early parts of the trial Wednesday. He made no gestures and appeared to pay close attention to the proceedings as he sat quietly in the defendants' area. It was Saddam's first court appearance following last week's election, when Iraqis swarmed to the polls to vote for the country's first full-term parliament since his downfall. During previous sessions, Saddam has been defiant and combative at times, often trying to dominate the courtroom. He and his half brother - Barazan Ibrahim, who was head of the Iraqi intelligence during the Dujail incident - have used the procedures to protest their own conditions in detention. The chief prosecutor in the case, Jaafar al-Mousawi told The Associated Press by telephone on Tuesday that five prosecution witnesses were ready to take the stand on Wednesday. It would be up to the court to decided whether to hear all of them, he said. It was unclear how many more prosecution witnesses, if any, would follow. "We are very prepared for the resumption of the trial," al-Mousawi said. "There is evidence and there are documents with Saddam's signature on them," he told the AP. "When it's time for the prosecution to make its case, there will be a surprise." He did not elaborate or provide any further details. The court - which held its first session October 19 - has so far heard nine witnesses, who often gave emotional testimonies of random arrests, starvation and beatings while in custody and torture in detention. Khamis al-Ubeidi, a lawyer on Saddam's defense team, argued that the "witnesses have no legal value. Their testimonies are based on coaching and unjustified narrative." He said the defense team had security concerns that it wanted to tell the court about. "The court has to provide the lawyers and the defense witnesses with security," he told the AP on Tuesday. "How can a lawyer work if he cannot move freely because of the security situation?" Some Iraqi government officials have said they hope the trial of Saddam will help heal the wounds of his regime's victims and bring Iraqis closer together. But the trial has also highlighted divisions between Iraq's various ethnic and sectarian groups, with many Sunni Arabs expressing sympathy with the former president and even nostalgia for his era. By contrast, many Shi'ites and Kurds gloated over seeing the once powerful Saddam reduced to a defendant.