Image: Saddam Hussein.
Marco Di Lauro  /  Pool via AP
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein addresses the court during his trial in the heavily fortified Green Zone, in Baghdad, Iraq, on Wednesday.
updated 5/17/2006 6:59:23 AM ET 2006-05-17T10:59:23

Defense lawyers put a quick series of witnesses on the stand in Saddam Hussein’s trial Wednesday, and the former Iraqi leader attended the session after being kept out of the courtroom a day earlier.

Saddam was smiling as he entered the courtroom along with the other seven defendants but said nothing when he took his seat in the defendants’ pen.

In a session Tuesday, only three lower-level defendants were brought into the court because the defense witnesses being heard that day concerned only their cases. Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman rejected defense requests that all the defendants be allowed to attend, saying their presence was not necessary.

But he changed his mind for Wednesday’s session, telling the court that all the defendants would be allowed to be present in case their names came up in testimony.

The witnesses Tuesday and Wednesday were testifying on behalf of defendants Abdullah Kazim al-Ruwayyid and his son Mizhar, two local Baath Party officials accused of helping a crackdown against Shiites in the town of Dujail in the 1980s.

Saddam and the other defendants have been charged with crimes against humanity for the crackdown, in which hundreds of Dujail residents were imprisoned, some undergoing torture, and 148 were killed. The defendants face possible execution by hanging if convicted.

The crackdown was launched after shots were fired on Saddam’s motorcade in the town on July 8, 1982.

New testimony
Three witnesses, two Dujail residents and a nephew of Abdullah al-Ruwayyid, were put on the stand in quick succession in the first half hour of Wednesday’s session, telling the court that the two al-Ruwayyids had nothing to do with the crackdown.

One Dujail resident said he saw Abdullah al-Ruwayyid leaving Dujail the day after the assassination attempt to return to his unit of the People’s Army, a Baath Party militia, in the northern city of Mosul.

“I saw him a month later, and never heard from any Dujail residents that he took part in any arrests with the security forces,” the witness said.

In the charge sheet announced Monday, Abdel-Rahman accused the two al-Ruwayyids and two other low-level defendants of sending letters to security forces the day of the attack informing on Dujail residents. Some of the people they named — including women and children — later died from torture or harsh prison conditions or were among the 148 people sentenced to death and executed for the assassination attempt.

Iraqi experts authenticated their handwriting in the letters, though the two deny writing them.

Saddam and other top defendants have argued that the crackdown was a legal response to the assassination attempt. But in the case of the lower-level defendants, the defense is trying a different tack, arguing that they were not involved at all in the sweep of arrests against Dujail residents.

On Tuesday, a series of relatives of the al-Ruwayyids took the stand, making similar arguments and depicting the family as victims in the crackdown. They said some of the family’s lands were among those razed by security forces in retaliation for the assassination attempt.

The burden of proof has effectively been thrown onto the defense to clear their clients after Abdel-Rahman on Monday accused Saddam and his seven co-defendants of crimes against humanity, including killings, torture and unlawful imprisonment of men, women and children, based on the prosecution evidence so far in the 7-month-old trial.

The seriousness of the charges raises a strong possibility of death sentences for at least some of the defendants if convicted, particularly Saddam and his former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim.

U.S. officials observing the court have said a verdict could come as soon as August. The defendants have the right of appeal, which could extend the proceedings for months.

The system of announcing the charges after hearing the prosecution’s case is one that is particular to the Iraqi court.

It means the five-judge panel has made “an initial determination that they find merit to those charges, based on what they’ve seen to date,” said Simone Monesebian, who served as the head of the defense in the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal and a prosecutor in the Rwanda war crimes court.

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