BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The trial of Saddam Hussein was thrown into further disarray on Wednesday when it was delayed for “procedural issues” after the defence refused to return to court unless the chief judge resigned.
Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman, who has infuriated Saddam and his defence team with his no-nonsense style, was due to open the court after a closed session.
Speaking to Reuters in the Jordanian capital Amman, Saddam’s chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi accused Abdel Rahman, a member of the Kurdish community long oppressed by Saddam, of showing bias and rushing to hand down a sentence.
“We cannot attend any trial session unless the chief judge resigns, because he holds a personal grudge against my client,” he said.
Abdel Rahman, who stares out Saddam and yells back at him, has made it clear he will not tolerate the former leader’s outbursts. The trial has turned into a test of wills since he began presiding over proceedings on Sunday.
“After what happened … the defence team was confronted with only one choice — the boycott of a court that has no legitimacy, (is)unconstitutional and has already taken a prior decision to convict the president,” Dulaimi said.
The reason for the closed session was not immediately clear, but a source in the courtroom who spoke on condition of anonymity said Abdel Rahman would explain.
Proceedings normally get under way at around 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT), but nearly three hours later there was no sign of a formal hearing starting.
Saddam, who still calls himself the president of Iraq, could face the death penalty if convicted on charges of killing 148 men from the Shi’ite town of Dujail after a bid to assassinate him there in 1982. Seven co-defendants face the same charges.
The Dujail case was raised in court first because it was meant to offer clear evidence linking Saddam to crimes against humanity that would lead to a quick conviction.
But the trial has been marred by delays since getting under way last October. Two members of the defence team have been murdered, chief judge Rizgar Amin resigned complaining of political interference, and his original replacement was shifted aside after being accused of belonging to Saddam’s Baath party.
Witness testimony has been overshadowed by Saddam’s tirades slamming the court as an illegitimate creation of U.S. occupiers.
Saddam’s trial collapsed into chaos moments after resuming on Sunday, when he and his defence team stormed out and guards dragged his half-brother from the courtroom after he refused to keep quiet.