BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Guards forcibly ejected a defense lawyer from the courtroom and the chief judge shouted down Saddam Hussein on Monday in a stormy start to a new session of the trial of the former Iraqi leader and members of his regime.
The squabble began when chief judge informed defense lawyer Bushra Khalil that she would be allowed to return to the court after being removed from a session in April for arguing with the judge. But when she tried to make a statement, he quickly cut her off, saying, “Sit down.”
“I just want to say one word,” she said, but Abdel-Rahman yelled at guards to take her away. Khalil pulled off her judicial robe and threw it on the floor in anger, then tried to push the guards who were grabbing her hands, shouting, “Get away from me.”
As she was pulled out of the court, Saddam objected from the defendants’ pen, and Abdel-Rahman told him to be silent.
“I’m Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq. I am above all,” Saddam shouted back.
“You are a defendant now, not a president,” the judge barked.
Recent sessions of the trial have been remarkably orderly because Abdel-Rahman has taken a tough line to put a stop to frequent outbursts by Saddam and his co-defendants. He first removed the Lebanese-born Khalil, the only woman on the defense team, in an April 5 session after she objected to a video of Saddam shown by prosecutors.
After the outbursts Monday, the court resumed hearing defense witnesses. Saddam and seven former members of his regime face possible execution by hanging if convicted on charges of crimes against humanity in a crackdown against Shiites in the town Dujail in the 1980s.
Saddam and the upper-level defendants have insisted the sweep of arrests — in which some detainees, including women and children, died in prison and 148 Shiites were sentenced to death — was a justified response to a 1982 assassination attempt on Saddam in the town.
Monday’s first witness was a former employee of the Revolutionary Court, Murshid Mohammed Jassim, who testified on behalf of defendant Awad al-Bandar, the judge who sentenced the 148 to death. Abdel-Rahman has accused al-Bandar of convicting the Shiites without a proper trial, though al-Bandar has maintained the trial was fair.
Jassim, who shook his cane at times as he spoke, acknowledged that he did not work at the court at the time of the Dujail trial in 1984. But he insisted the court was “the most fair, the most just … (Al-Bandar) is a quiet, polite, fair man.”
He said the Revolutionary Court always gave defendants a full chance to defend themselves and ensured they had lawyers and that Saddam or his officials never intervened in its proceedings.
Referring to the ejection of Khalil, al-Bandar asked Jassim, “Were defense lawyers ever thrown out of court when they tried to make an argument.” Jassim said no, then added: “Lawyers were always treated with respect in accordance with the law.”
Al-Bandar has said the 148 defendants confessed. But he has also acknowledged that there was only one defense lawyer for all of them and the trial only lasted 16 days.
The prosecution has argued that it was a show-trial in which the defendants had no opportunity to present their cases. It has presented documents showing that a number of minors below the age of 18 were convicted, including one as young as 11.
The prosecution has also argued that the crackdown went far beyond the perpetrators of the attack on Saddam, sweeping up entire families in an attempt to punish the town.