BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -Saddam Hussein’s trial entered a new phase Monday, when the chief judge formally charged the ousted Iraqi leader with murder, torture of women and children and the illegal arrest of 399 people in a crackdown against Shiites in the 1980s.
Saddam, who sat alone in the defendants’ pen as the charges were read, refused to enter a plea when chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman asked him if he were guilty or not.
“I can’t just say yes or no to this. You read all this for the sake of public consumption, and I can’t answer it in brief,” Saddam replied. “This will never shake one hair of my head.”
“You are before Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq. I am the president of Iraq according to the will of the Iraqis and I am still the president up to this moment,” he said. Abdel-Rahman entered a “not guilty” plea on Saddam’s behalf.
Saddam and seven former members of his regime have been on trial for nearly seven months over the crackdown against residents of the town of Dujail.
Under the Iraqi system, the court first hears plaintiffs outline their complaint against the defendants and the prosecutions’ evidence against them. Then the judges decide on specific charges, and the defense begins making its case.
Security forces arrested hundreds of Dujail residents, including entire families, after a 1982 attempt on Saddam’s life in the town. Witnesses, including women, have recounted being tortured while in prison, farmlands were razed in retaliation and 148 Shiites were sentenced to death in connection to the shooting attack on Saddam. All 148 were killed, either dying under interrogation or executed.
The charges against Saddam read by Abdel-Rahman included the arrest of 399 people, the torture of women and children, and ordering the razing of farmlands.
He was also charged in the deaths of nine people who Abdel-Rahman said were killed in the first days of the crackdown. Saddam was not charged in the deaths of the 148 who were sentenced to death by his Revolutionary Court.
“After allegations of coming under an assassination attempt, you issued orders to security forces and the army to arrest residents and use all weapons against them,” Abdel-Rahman told Saddam.
“As a result for your orders to use force against Dujail residents, nine people were killed in the first two days … and 399 others were arrested,” he said.
After Saddam refused to enter a plea, Abdel-Rahman called in the next defendant, Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Ibrahim, former head of the Mukhabarat intelligence agency. He read the same charges against Ibrahim, adding a charge of murder for the killing of the 148 Shiites sentenced to death.
“All you said are lies, everything you mentioned is a lie,” Ibrahim replied when Abdel-Rahman asked him for his plea.
Abdel-Rahman then proceded to call in each of the remaining defendants one by one to read the charges against them.