LIANE HANSEN, host:
In Baghdad, the trial of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein resumed today. It quickly descended into chaos as Saddam, three of his co-defendants, and their defense team walked out after A heated exchange with the trial's new chief judge.
Saddam and seven others face charges in the deaths of 140 Shiite Muslims in 1982, following an assassination attempt in the town of Dujail. The trial began on October 19th, but it's been plagued by the killing of two defense lawyers, death threats directed at judges on the case, and quarrels over safeguarding the trial's independence from political interference.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us from Baghdad where she's following the trial. Elaborate a little on what happened in the courtroom today.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:
Well, the fireworks started pretty quickly. The new chief judge, Rauf Abdel Rahman, started by telling the defendants and their lawyers that he would not accept any political speeches or grandstanding in his court. That firm statement, though, was quickly followed by an outburst from Saddam's half-brother and fellow defendant, Barzan Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, who started cursing the court, saying it was the daughter of a whore. Things devolved from there.
After he refused to sit down, two burley guards grabbed him by the arms, there was a scuffle, and he was dragged out of the court. While this is happening, Saddam stands up and shouts Down with the traitors, down with America. The defense lawyers join in, and then one of them is hauled out too. The other lawyers get up and leave in protest. Saddam was then left in the court, and the Judge quickly simply says that now court-appointed lawyers are going to act as the defense. But Saddam and the judge then go at it, Saddam saying he's not going to accept that, and then he storms out of the court too. So, a lot of theatrics in a small amount of time today.
And this seems to be a defense tactic, you know, it seems they're hoping to discredit the proceedings and show that the new judge somehow doesn't have the chops to stand them down. Sort of a test of wills, it looks like.
HANSEN: But the trial is continuing?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It did indeed. Four defendants were left out of the eight. They had new court-appointed defense lawyers, and the next witness was called in anyway. She was a woman from Dujail.
She was hidden behind a curtain, as has been the tactic in the past, to protect her identity. And she's from the town where this alleged massacre took place. Her testimony said she had been tortured along with her husband who was killed by Saddam's security forces.
HANSEN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, in Baghdad. Lourdes, thank you very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.