BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Saddam Hussein announced in court that he was on hunger strike to protest tough stances by the chief judge in a heated start Tuesday to the latest session of his trial.
The former Iraqi leader shouted his support for Iraqi insurgents, yelling “Long live the mujahedeen,” as he entered the courtroom and immediately began shouting with with chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman.
“For three days we have been holding a hunger strike protesting against your way in treating us, against you and your masters,” Saddam told Abdel-Rahman, who in Monday’s session ordered the eight defendants to attend the court despite a boycott by their original defense team.
When Abdel-Rahman banged his gavel and rebuked him for not standing when he addressed the court, Saddam, dressed in a dark grey suit, retorted, “Hit your own head with that gavel.”
One of the co-defendants, Awad Hamed al-Bandar, also said he was not eating. Saddam made no mention of a hunger strike in Monday’s session. Saddam’s defense team in Jordan said on Sunday that the defendants were going on hunger strike but later reversed itself and said its information had been incorrect.
Monday’s session had a stormy start as Saddam, his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim argued with the judge, protesting that they had been forced to attend. There was similar shouting at the opening of Tuesday’s proceedings, but calm was brought quickly, and the court began hearing the day’s first prosecution witness, a former intelligence official who testified from behind a curtain to maintain his anonymity.
As he entered the court, Ibrahim shouted “Long live the Baath,” referring to Saddam’s former ruling party. For the second straight day, the former head of Saddam’s intelligence service wore a long-sleeved undershirt and long underwear to show his rejection of the court.
When Abdel-Rahman told him to “shut up,” Ibrahim replied, “Don’t tell me to shut up. i am a person like you, even better than you.”
On Monday, the prosecution made its strongest attempt yet to link Saddam personally to executions carried out in a crackdown launched in 1982 following an attempt on his life in the Shiite town of Dujail. It produced execution orders with his signatures and put members of his regime on the witness stand for the first time.
Saddam and his seven co-defendants are on trial in the killing of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims in Dujail. If convicted, they could face the death penalty by hanging.
On Tuesday, the prosecution intended to call more regime figures as witnesses, including Fadel Mohammed, an intelligence official, and Hamed Youssef Hamadi, who was a minister of culture under Saddam, in addition to the anonymous intelligence official.
Twenty-six prosecution witnesses have testified since the Saddam trial began Oct. 19, many providing accounts of torture and imprisonment in the crackdown, but they could not directly pin them on Saddam.
On Monday, the prosecution displayed two documents on screens in the court. One was a document in Arabic dated to 1984 allegedly written and signed by Saddam in which he ratified “the execution of the Dujail criminals.”
A handwritten note at the bottom was allegedly by Ahmed Hussein Khudayer al-Samarrai, head of Saddam’s presidential office from 1984 to 1991 and then again from 1995 until Saddam’s ouster in 2003.
Al-Samarrai, who was called to the witness stand, was asked if the note was his handwriting, al-Samarrai, 62. He said he wasn’t sure. “I don’t remember,” he said. “I don’t remember anything at all.”
Another document was a 1987 memo from the presidential office’s legal department saying two people sentenced to death in connection with Dujail had not been executed and suggesting that they be released because of old age and that those responsible for the “oversight” should be investigated.
A note written in the margin at the bottom, allegedly in Saddam’s handwriting, approved the investigation but says the two people should be spared execution “because we cannot allow luck to be more compassionate than us even when compassion here goes to the undeserving.”
Prosecutors have said that they had documents showing that Saddam was closely following the crackdown. Asked if he recognized the handwriting on the memo, al-Samarrai replied, “Mr. President.” That sparked a swift and angry correction from chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi and Abdel-Rahman, the chief judge. “Defendant Saddam Hussein,” they shot back.
Al-Samarrai insisted he knew nothing about the events in Dujail except what he said he had heard on foreign radio broadcasts.
“I am not fit to be a witness in this case,” he pleaded with Abdel-Rahman and al-Moussawi. “I don’t want to be a witness.”