Saddam, Boycotting Defendants Forced Back to Trial

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was forced to return to court Feb. 13

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was forced to return to court Feb. 13, after boycotting his trial for two days. Reuters hide caption

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Saddam Hussein's trial resumes in dramatic fashion after an 11-day break. Saddam and his co-defendants boycotted the past two days of the trial and intended to boycott Monday's proceedings. But they arrived disheveled and combative after the court forced them to attend.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. There was more courtroom drama today in Baghdad as the trial of Saddam Hussein resumed after an 11-day break. Saddam and his seven codefendants had intended to boycott the session. They sat out the last two days of the proceedings, but today the court forced them to attend. The men are charged with killing nearly 150 Shiite Muslims after Saddam survived an assassination attempt in the town of Dujail. After a verdict, Saddam could receive the death penalty.

NPR's John Hendren has the story from Baghdad.

JOHN HENDREN: The defendants cut unusual profiles at the 11th session of the Iraqi high tribunal. Saddam Hussein arrived in a dishdasha robe and slippers without socks rather than his usual suit. He chanted, Long live Iraq and Down with Bush. His half brother, Barzan, came looking disheveled in an undershirt and long johns. He said the court was illegally holding him because he has cancer.

BARZAN IBRAHIM: (Through translator) The law says that if any prisoner is sick in a way that he cannot be treated, then he should be released for treatment. I want this to be implemented. So if you truly fear God, which I doubt, and if you have a human conscience, then implement the law and release me so that I can get my treatment.

HENDREN: The judge refused. So the feared head of Saddam's intelligence agency took off his slippers and sat on the floor, with his back to the court. During much of the day, Saddam sat and listened quietly as prosecutors tried to pry information from two of his former aides. He laughed as the second witness refused to testify after being forced to appear in court.

RAOUF ABDEL: (Through translator) Your lawyers are here. And we will now carry out the law which was enacted when you were president of the republic, which is what we're implementing. If your lawyers don't attend, then the court appoints lawyers who will defend you. The lawyers are here, and they are defending you legally.

SADDAM HUSSEIN: (Through translator) My lawyers didn't withdraw. You threw them out.

ABDEL: (Through translator) The court didn't throw out anyone. I only threw out one who wouldn't give his power of attorney.

HUSSEIN: (Through translator) They were thrown and kicked. Are you a small child?

ABDEL: (Through translator) No one kicked anyone.

HUSSEIN: (Through translator) Are you a small child? Are we criminals?

ABDEL: (Through translator) You are defying the court.

HENDREN: Then there was Saddam's chief aide, Ahmed Hussein al-Samarrai. He got into it with the prosecutor over Saddam's title.

JAAFAR AL: (Through translator) Whose handwriting is this?

AHMAD HUSSEIN KHUDDAYER AL: (Through translator) Whose handwriting is this? His excellency, the president.

AL: (Through translator) The accused, Saddam Hussein.

AL: (Through translator) Please, his excellency, the president.

AL: (Through translator) The accused, Saddam Hussein.

HENDREN: Finally, Saddam himself breaks in.

HUSSEIN: (Through translator) He says the president, and it is his right to say so.

AL: (Through translator) Former president.

HUSSEIN: (Through translator) No, not the former, the current.

HENDREN: Saddam insists the court has no legitimacy, on the grounds that it is essentially an American colonial court. Nevertheless, he's also filed procedural motions. One seeks to remove the chief judge, who he says is biased against him because he comes from a Kurdish village that was gassed under Saddam and because he was sentenced to death in absentia in the 1970s for being active in a Kurdish party. Saddam granted the judge amnesty a few years later. So far, the tough new judge has refused to stand down. The court's history has been brief, but troubled. The first chief judge resigned, and two defense lawyers were killed. The trial continues tomorrow.

John Hendren, NPR News, Baghdad.

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