ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
The trial of Saddam Hussein was adjourned for the week today after the former leader came face to face with an alleged victim of what is known as the Anfal campaign. That was the big military operation Saddam launched against Iraq's Kurds in the late 1980s.
NPR's Tom Bowman reports from Baghdad.
TOM BOWMAN: In the fourth day of Saddam's trial on genocide charges, a nervous 57-year-old Kurdish farmer took the stand and recalled a meeting he had with the Iraqi leader nearly two decades ago.
Mr. ABDULLAH MOHAMMED HUSSEIN (Kurdish Farmer, Iraq): (Through Translator) I went to see Saddam Hussein and I was hoping that God will fill his heart with mercy.
BOWMAN: Farmer Abdullah Mohammed Hussein said his village elders helped get him in to see Saddam. He testified that he told the Iraqi leader, “Sir, my family members were arrested.” The farmer said then the Iraqi found out where he lived he replied, “Shut up. Your family is gone in the Anfal.”
Prosecutors allege that 180,000 Kurds were killed in the Anfal campaign in 1987 and 1988, when Iraqi forces stormed the Kurdish region using air strikes with chemical weapons. Tens of thousands were forced from their homes, their villages destroyed. At the time, Iraqi leaders alleged that Kurdish rebels were aiding Iran, which was then at war with Iraq.
In the courtroom today, Saddam watched the farmer as he testified. He asked for a pen and paper so he could take notes, then he challenged the witness.
Mr. SADDAM HUSSEIN (Defendant, Iraqi Anfal Trial): (Through Translator) Why did he try to see Saddam Hussein knowing that Saddam Hussein is a dictator and an enemy of the Kurdish people, as they say?
BOWMAN: Judge Abdullah al-Amiri interrupted the Iraqi leader with a comment that surprised many in the courtroom.
Judge ABDULLAH AL-AMIRI (Iraqi Anfal Trial): (Through Translator) You are not a dictator. You were not a dictator. The people around a person make him a dictator. Not just you. This happens worldwide.
BOWMAN: Saddam looked up at the judge.
Mr. HUSSEIN: (Through Translator) Thank you.
BOWMAN: Then Saddam bowed his head. Al-Amiri heads a five judge panel that oversees the trial and will deliver the verdict. He is a Shiite Muslim in his mid-50s. He has been a judge for 25 years and served much of that time under Saddam's regime.
Early this week the chief prosecutor in the case, Munqith al-Faroon, demanded that the judge step down, accusing him of bias. Al-Faroon said the judge was allowing Saddam to make “political statements.” The prosecutor did not challenge the judge today after his exchange with Saddam, but the judge immediately tried to explain himself.
Judge AL-AMIRI: (Through Translator) In this courtroom we are more reserved because any word we say might have different meanings. Any word the judge, the prosecutor, the defense or the defendants utter might be interpreted differently. That is why I speak slowly, because I am afraid that my word has 100 interpretations.
BOWMAN: Not long after the comment, the judge abruptly suspended the session until Monday, citing what he called technical reasons. There was no further explanation.
At a press conference after the session, a spokesman for the tribunal defended the judge's comments about Saddam. He told reporters they were ignoring the positive aspects of the court.
Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) As I said, the judge maintains his independence and neutrality and he ignores all illegal speech unless it affects the case.
BOWMAN: Meanwhile a source at the Baghdad morgue said it received 80 bodies over the past 24 hours, the highest number in weeks. Eight of the bodies were headless and one head was placed in a bag with a note - this is what happens to Sunnis.
And the U.S. military said three American soldiers died. Two died in Baghdad. One was killed when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Another was killed by gunfire. The third soldier died after being hit by enemy fire on Wednesday near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Baghdad.
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