BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – The trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-accused of crimes against humanity entered its final day on Thursday with the appearance of former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, but Saddam himself was not present.
Ramadan’s lawyers boycotted the proceedings and, turning down the services of five court-appointed lawyers, Ramadan said he would speak in his own defence because the court had failed to protect his legal team.
“This case is fabricated against me since the beginning. I am innocent and I realize that the verdict was already prepared against me,” he told chief judge Raouf Abdel Rahman.
“I reject the court-appointed lawyers. I will defend myself. They know nothing about me,” said Ramadan, dressed in traditional grey flowing robes and a red checkered headdress.
Saddam and the seven others are charged with the killing of 148 Shi’ites after an attempt on his life in Dujail in 1982. He faces a second trial, due to start in a month, on charges of genocide against the country’s ethnic Kurds.
U.S. officials close to the court said they expected the current trial to adjourn later on Thursday, with a verdict in October.
The maximum penalty is death and Saddam said on Wednesday that as a soldier, he deserved to meet this fate by firing squad rather than the gallows. But Iraqi law clearly states the execution must be by hanging, and Saddam appointed himself commander in chief and never actually served in the military.
Ramadan, who spoke without the angry outbursts that marked Saddam’s day in court, looked tired. He had joined the former Iraqi leader on a hunger strike, but that broke on Wednesday.
“I’ve been on hunger strike for 19 days and yesterday we ended the strike when President Saddam appeared in court,” he said.
The trial has already been tarnished by the killing of three defence lawyers and the resignation of the first chief judge to protest against what he said was government interference.
Ramadan complained that one of his lawyers had been killed and another had fled the country, but the judge told him this violence was just the way things were at the moment in Iraq.
“This killing is part of the bad and tragic circumstances shrouding this country and its people, may God remove it,” Raouf said.
The court-appointed lawyer who read Ramadan’s closing defence refused to be filmed and spoke through a voice scrambler, fearful for his life in a country ravaged by sectarian violence and a Sunni Arab insurgency led by Saddam loyalists since he was toppled in 2003.