Saddam trial adjourned for two weeks to resolve defense boycott
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The judge called a two-week recess in the trial of Saddam Hussein on Tuesday, hoping to end a boycott of the trial by the former Iraqi leader and his lawyers. But he warned that if they won’t come back, court-appointed lawyers will make Saddam’s closing arguments.The lawyers for Saddam and three top co-defendants in the case announced a day earlier they would not appear unless the court met a list of demands, including greater security after the slaying of one of their colleagues last month.In a letter to the court, the defense said it wanted security for the defense lawyers and their families by U.S. authorities. It also demanded a 45-day recess to allow it to prepare its closing statements and a promise from the court that it would be allowed to take as long as it wishes in its final arguments.Court spokesman Raid Juhi said the defense had rejected an offer of the same security precaution given to the judges and prosecution lawyers: residence inside the Green Zone, the fortified Baghdad neighborhood where the court is located.Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman made no indication he would meet the defense’s conditions, but said the lawyers have a duty to defend their clients.”The absence of the original lawyers … will harm the client’s case,” he said. He turned to the lawyers for four lower-level defendants, who were present, and told them: “Tell your colleagues that court-appointed lawyers will present the closing arguments if they do not attend.”Juhi said the court did not intend to try to contact the lawyers to work out an agreement for their return. “It is not the court’s role to negotiate,” he said.Instead, the adjournment of the court until July 24 was aimed to give them time to reverse the boycott or, failing that, allow the court-appointed lawyers to prepare closing arguments for Saddam and the three others, Barzan Ibrahim, Taha Hussein Ramadan and Awad al-Bandar.Defense lawyers were not available for comment on whether they would continue their boycott. Saddam has also said he will not attend the remainder of the trial, though it was not known if the three others would show up to deliver their last comments to the court.It was not clear if the long adjournment will mean a delay in the issuing of verdicts in the 9-month-old trial. Court officials had predicted the verdicts would come in mid-August.The court had been expected to hear the closing arguments for all eight defendants one by one this week before the judges adjourn to deliberate.Saddam and seven former members of his regime are charged over a crackdown against Shiites in the town of Dujail launched after a 1982 assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader. They are accused of arresting hundreds of people, torturing women and children and killing 148 people who were sentenced to death.This week, the court heard the final arguments of four lower-level defendants, including Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid and his son Mizhar, who are accused of informing on Dujail residents who were later killed.Mizhar Ruwayyid pleaded to the court Tuesday that he is innocent. “Dujail’s people are my family and my tribe, we are connected in blood,” he said. “My wife is Shiite and my son’s wife is Shiite.””I ask your honor for mercy for my family and myself,” he said.Abdullah Ruwayyid’s lawyer said alleged informant letters by him produced by the prosecution were forgeries.”I only ask for justice from this court and I hope God will bless you,” Abdullah Ruwayyid said Tuesday. “I have eight children and now I have grandchildren, and my sons and daughters became grandfathers and mothers. My family now has 100 people. I want my children and grandchildren to take care of me.”The two other defendants, Ali Dayih and Mohammed Azzawi, gave their final arguments on Monday. The prosecution has asked for Azzawi to be acquitted, saying there was not enough evidence against him, and for the three others to get more lenient sentences since they played only minor roles in the Dujail crackdown.Saddam and the other three top defendants could face execution by hanging if convicted on the charges.Court officials have insisted the use of appointed attorneys – who have observed the trial throughout – is fair. Such attorneys represented the defendants in court during previous, brief boycotts by the defense team.But the long adjournment reflected worries that a boycott in the trial’s final phase could hurt the perception of fairness.The defense walkout was sparked after the slaying of Khamis al-Obeidi on June 21. The defense team has blamed the slaying on Shiite militiamen.The tribunal is preparing to launch a second trial for Saddam on Aug. 21. He and six other former regime figures will face charges of genocide for the Anfal Campaign in the 1980s that killed an estimated 100,000 Kurds and saw thousands of Kurdish villages razed.