Image: Mahmud Dhiyyab al-Ahmad
Erik de Castro  /  Pool via Reuters
Iraqi witness Mahmud Dhiyyab al-Ahmad testifies for the defense during the trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein held at the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday.
updated 5/30/2006 9:02:46 AM ET 2006-05-30T13:02:46

The defense in the trial of Saddam Hussein said Tuesday that one of its witnesses had been killed and complained of restrictions on presenting its case.

The defense did not identify the slain witness or give details on how or when he was killed, but it said the death illustrated the difficulties undermining an effective defense of Saddam and seven former members of his regime.

"The defense is not free to present its witnesses the way the prosecution is," one of the defense lawyers told chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman. "There are restrictions that limit us, as well as the security provisions necessary to bring the witnesses to the court. Some days ago, one of the witnesses who testified before us was killed."

The lawyer, who is among those on the team whose names have not been made public for security reasons, said the defense is limited because some potential witnesses are wanted by the U.S. military or Iraqi government and so won't appear. He did not elaborate.

The defense has been presenting its case for the past month in the 7-month-old trial of Saddam and his co-defendants. They are accused of crimes against humanity -- including killing and torture -- in a crackdown against Shiites prompted by an assassination attempt against Saddam in the town of Dujail in 1982.

Early in the trial, two defense lawyers were killed, raising complaints from the team over their security. On Monday, a defense lawyer accused a spectator in the audience of being a member of a Shiite militia who has threatened lawyers in the past. The judge ejected the spectator from the court.

A fair trial?
An effective defense is key to ensure a fair trial, a major concern for U.S. and Iraqi leaders who have hoped the tribunal can help Iraq's deeply divided Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds put the alleged atrocities by Saddam's regime behind them.

One of the defense witnesses who testified Tuesday alleged that nearly two dozen of the 148 Shiites who were sentenced to death were still alive. The prosecution has said all 148 were killed, either executed by hanging or tortured to death even before their sentencing.

"Around 23 of those who were mentioned among the 148 are still alive, and I know most of them," the witness, a Dujail resident, said, testifying from behind a curtain to protect his anonymity.

“I've eaten with them, I've met them. ... I can take the chief prosecutor to Dujail and have lunch with them."

He gave chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman the names of six of those he claimed were still alive, but refused to give more, fearing reprisals from their tribes.

Judge chides defense
"If the witness's testimony is correct ... the case should be reviewed," one of the defense lawyers said, arguing that it threw doubt on a key part of the prosecution's case.

But chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi tried to throw doubt on the witness, saying records showed he was not a Dujail resident as he claimed and that some of the names he gave were not on the list of those sentenced to death.

The defense's complaints over restrictions came after Abdel-Rahman chided the defense for trying to add to its list of witnesses, saying it must ensure its witnesses can directly address the charges facing Saddam.

"The key is not the number of witnesses, but the quality of their testimony. That's in your interest. If you come with 100 witnesses but they aren't effective for your defense ... the court won't take it," he said.

Growing impatience
Abdel-Rahman has shown increasing impatience with a string of people brought to the stand who had no direct connection to the Dujail case. For example, the defense has brought employees of the Revolutionary Court that sentenced 148 Shiites from Dujail to death for the attack on Saddam. Each has insisted the court was a fair one -- but none were involved in the Dujail trial.

The defense on Tuesday tried to introduce CD videos as evidence in the trial. But Abdel-Rahman refused to show them immediately in court and told the lawyers to make a written request to submit them, sparking a new argument.

Saddam interjected that Abdel-Rahman should give the defense as much time as the prosecution.

"I would insist not come here if I did not respect the judicial system," Saddam told the judge. "My respect for the judicial system is the reason behind accepting my colleagues to defend me and to present my case before Iraqis and public opinion."

"The prosecution presented all his witness one by one. We have nothing here, just talk, but when even talk is forbidden then we enter an imbalance," he said. "To attain balance we have to give the same opportunity to the defense witnesses."

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