Saddam Trial Postponed After Brief Session

Saddam Hussein in court

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein appears in a Baghdad courtroom Monday, Nov. 28. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

In Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants resumed Monday after a 40-day recess. Proceedings were then postponed until Dec. 5, to allow time to replace two defense lawyers who had been murdered.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The trial of Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants resumed briefly in Baghdad today. Prosecutors presented the first witness testimony, then the proceedings were adjourned until next month so the defense can find replacements for two lawyers who were killed after the trial first opened last month. The accused are charged with the 1982 massacre of more than a 140 Shiite Muslims following an assassination attempt against Saddam. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the proceedings and joins me from Baghdad.

And, now that the trial has shifted into the testimony phase, what are Iraqis hearing?

PETER KENYON reporting:

Well, Renee, at least one question has been answered. This first witness will not be cross-examined because he's dead. Former senior intelligence officer under Saddam, a man named Wadah al-Sheikh, had his testimony taken by videotape in a prison hospital. During a break in the trial, he died of cancer four days after testifying. And that video was the first testimony played in the courtroom today. The witness implicated Saddam only indirectly, saying he'd heard that Saddam issued an order declaring that any villager in Dujail--that's where this assassination attempt had occurred in 1982--any villager there suspected of having weapons should be arrested and jailed. Now in rural Iraq that covers virtually every farmhouse--has its own guns, so fast numbers of families were taken: men, women, elderly and children.

But the bulk of this testimony implicated another defendant, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti. And that makes sense because he was the head of the Mukhabarat, the intelligence service and would have been speaking more directly to this witness. He said Barzan ordered mass killings and testified about villagers being killed in a farmhouse and in orchards. He also implicated Taha Yassin Ramadan as far as destroying village farmland.

MONTAGNE: And how has Saddam reacted both to this testimony and also just generally to being in court again?

KENYON: To the former, very little reaction. Not much visible reaction anyway or audible to the testimony itself. He did lodge some complaints early on saying he was forced to walk up four flights of stairs in handcuffs because the elevator wasn't working this morning just to get into the courtroom. He chided the presiding judge, Rizgar Mohammad Amin, saying he is the authority. He should order the Americans--these occupiers, as he put it--to stop treating him this way. He said, `You're the Iraqi. You have sovereign authority here.' And that, of course, is a far cry from his much more dismissive tone that he took last month about the authority in this court.

MONTAGNE: And the defense is now being supported by former US attorney general, Ramsey Clark. What did they want from the court?

KENYON: Well, quite a number of possible motions have been discussed. So far, Ramsey Clark and a former Qatari justice minister have been added to the defense team and the judge was told that both would like to address the court. He said he'd deal with that request later. At least six defense lawyers did not show up, they're worried about their safety. But in general, the defense wants A, to have more time to make its case; B, they still challenge the authority of this court to try a man who still claims to be president of Iraq; and C, they may still try to have the trial moved.

MONTAGNE: And ordinary Iraqis, what do they think of this trial so far?

KENYON: It's a high level of interest. An NPR stinger in Bosra, in the largely Shiite south of the country, reports nearly empty streets there as residents watch the trial unfold. There's been a number of demonstrations. But most people are intensely interested in seeing A, what will happen to Saddam, and B, how does this court behave?

MONTAGNE: Well, Peter, in other news form Iraq, what is the latest on the possible kidnapping of four Westerners--and that includes one American?

KENYON: Here's where it stands. Canadian officials say four aid workers were kidnapped, two of them Canadians. The US Embassy now confirms one American is missing. They're still investigating whether it's a kidnapping. And the British Embassy is also investigating the disappearance of one British citizen, possibly a 74-year-old peace activist, according to his family who says he's gone missing.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting on the trial of Saddam Hussein which has gotten under way again in Baghdad.

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