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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Defiant Saddam refuses to plead
Saddam Hussein walks into the defendants' pen as his trial resumes
The trial resumed after a three-week break
Iraq's deposed leader Saddam Hussein has refused to enter a plea after detailed charges were formally presented at his trial in Baghdad.

The chief judge read out specific charges against him relating to the killings of Shia Muslims in 1982.

"This is no way to treat the president of Iraq," Saddam Hussein said when asked to plead guilty or not.

After Saddam and seven co-defendants heard the charges against them, the defence starting presenting its case.

Under the Iraqi legal system, the court first hears the prosecution evidence and then the judges decided on the specific charges to be brought.

I am the president of Iraq according to the will of the Iraqis and I am still the president up to this moment
Saddam Hussein

The charges read out by Chief Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman relate to the defendants' alleged roles in the crackdown on the town of Dujail in 1982 after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein was accused of ordering:

  • The illegal arrest of 399 people
  • The torture of women and children
  • The destruction of farmland
  • The murder of nine people in the early days of the crackdown
  • The murder of 148 people in the later phase of the crackdown

Saddam Hussein, who if found guilty could face the death penalty, refused to enter a plea.

"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," he said.

"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."

The judge ordered the court to record that Saddam Hussein had denied the charges and then read out charges against the other defendants.

The first of these was Barzan al-Tikriti, the former head of the intelligence service, who was charged with the same crimes as his half-brother, Saddam Hussein.

"All you said are lies, everything you mentioned is a lie," Barzan al-Tikriti said when asked how he pleaded.

All eight defendants either refused to enter a plea or pleaded not guilty.

With the charges read out, the defence began its case, starting with Ali Daih Ali, a former Baath party official and one of the lesser known defendants.

Five witnesses were called to the stand before proceedings were adjourned until Tuesday. Three days of hearings are expected this week.

Protection

Since the trial began in October, the frequently interrupted court sessions have focussed on marshalling evidence against Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants.

Defendants in Baghdad court
The prosecution completed its case against the eight last month
Now it is the defence's chance to build its case for each of the accused, starting with the minor figures and building up to Saddam Hussein.

The defence phase is expected to last at least a month.

Defence witnesses will be under tight protection and some may testify from behind screens to protect their identity.

The trial has been marred by the killing of two defence lawyers, and in January the first chief judge resigned, amid accusations from government officials that he was too lenient towards the defendants.

Once the defence concludes its case, there will be a long recess while the court considers its verdict.

Recordings

Khamis al-Obeidi, a defence lawyer, told Reuters news agency that dozens of witnesses, including some from Dujail, would testify to the ex-leader's innocence.

The prosecution, which finished its case last month, presented evidence including audio recordings and signatures on execution orders linking the defendants to the killings.

The court also heard a report by handwriting experts confirming Saddam Hussein signed documents ordering the killing of the 148 Shia villagers in 1982.

Defence lawyers have insisted the signatures are forged. They have also contested the impartiality of the handwriting experts, who they say are linked to Iraq's interior ministry.




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