BAGHDAD (AFP) â€” The trial of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein resumes on Wednesday with further testimony from witnesses detailing abuses they suffered at the hands of the former Iraqi regime.
The trial of Saddam and seven associates for perpetrating the massacre of Shiite villagers of Dujail in 1982 was adjourned on December 7 for two weeks following three days of dramatic courtroom events.
Witnesses, many hidden behind screens with disguised voices, relayed chilling tales of torture while Saddam and his associates loudly disputed their testimony and condemned the court.
And in the final hearing, Saddam himself refused to appear after denouncing the court as illegal and telling the judge to “go to hell.”
“Saddam did not boycott (the proceedings), he was kept out on the basis of a request,” said investigating judge Raed Juhi afterwards, without making the specific nature of Saddam’s request clear.
Many observers interpreted Saddam’s action as simple defiance of the court.
People familiar with what went on in a closed session, however, reported that Saddam apologised to the judge for his behaviour, asked to be excused from the next session to save face and promised to attend the next session.
The hearings for the remaining five “complainant” witnesses are not expected to extend past Thursday.
Then, the much-delayed trial is likely to be adjourned again until mid-January to make way for Christmas, the announcement of Iraq’s election results, New Year’s and finally the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which comes in the second week of January.
At this point, the final phase of the judge-led “truthseeking” phase of the trial will take place with further eyewitness and documentary evidence.
The court is expected to break for another extended period to evaluate the evidence and then issue formal charges. Following the issuing of formal charges, the defence and prosecution themselves can call up their own witnesses. Prosecutor Jaafar Mussawi told AFP on Monday that the defence would “present 40 witnesses, including three ministers from the former regime and other people currently being detained” by US forces in Iraq.
However, the Jordan-based defence team swiftly denied Mussawi’s remarks as “totally untrue” and added that it still considered the tribunal illegal.
The initial sessions of the trial have been often chaotic and marked by chief judge Rizkar Mohammed Amen gradually asserting more control over rambling witnesses and noisy defendants.
Even on the day Saddam did not appear, his mantle of disruptiveness was taken up by his half brother Barzan Tikriti, who ridiculed witnesses for not getting their facts straight and then complained loudly about the conditions of his detention.
The defendants face the death penalty if convicted.
Defence lawyers, who include former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Qatari Minister of Justice Najib Nuami, have challenged witness testimony as confused, fabricated and not directly implicating their clients.
According to prosecutor Mussawi, an unidentified French lawyer has also joined the defence team.
On Monday, just before leaving Jordan for Baghdad and the trial, Nuami told AFP that the defence team may yet boycott the trial because it had still not received the necessary assurances of security from the tribunal.