Two defendants in the trial of Saddam Hussein made their closing arguments Tuesday before the judge adjourned the proceedings for nearly two weeks in an attempt to resolve a boycott of the court by the former Iraqi leader and his lawyers.
Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman said the court would resume on July 24 and warned that if the lawyers did not agree to return by then, court-appointed lawyers would make the final arguments for Saddam and three other top defendants in the case.
“The absence of the original lawyers to defend the defendant will harm the client’s case,” Abdel-Rahman said.
It was not clear if the long adjournment would delay verdicts in the nine-month-old trial, expected in mid-August. The court had hoped to hear the closing arguments for all eight defendants this week and next before the judges adjourn to deliberate.
But lawyers for Saddam, Barzan Ibrahim, Taha Yassin Ramadan and Awad al-Bandar announced Monday they were boycotting the final phase of the trial unless their demands were met, including greater security after the slaying of one of their colleagues last month.
Saddam also said he was boycotting, denouncing the court as unfair and a tool of the Americans.
On Monday, Abdel-Rahman dismissed the defense demands, saying some of them were against court rules and others were not in its purview.
Court spokesman Raid Juhi said Tuesday the court would not negotiate with the defense and that the recess aimed only to give the defense more time.
“There won’t be any attempts on the part of the court,” he told The Associated Press. “The lawyers’ duty is to defend their clients. But at the same time, we are committed to going ahead with proceedings.”
He said the two-week recess would give court-appointed lawyers time to prepare their closing arguments for Saddam and the others if necessary.
Saddam and seven former members of his regime are on trial for their roles in a crackdown against Shiites in the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt against the then-Iraqi leader. They are accused of arresting hundreds of people, torturing women and children and killing 148 people sentenced to death for the attack on the former Iraqi leader.
Defendant asks for 'mercy for my family and myself'
This week, the court heard the final arguments of four lower-level defendants in the case, including Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid and his son Mizhar on Tuesday. The two men are accused of informing on Dujail residents who were later killed.
Mizhar Ruwayyid insisted he was innocent.
“Dujail’s people are my family and my tribe, we are connected in blood,” he said. “My wife is Shiite and my son’s wife is Shiite.”
“I ask your honor for mercy for my family and myself,” he said.
Abdullah Ruwayyid’s lawyer said alleged informant letters by him that had been presented as evidence by the prosecution were forgeries.
A defense boycott in the trial’s final phase throw doubt on the fairness of the proceedings — a major concern as the tribunal prepares to begin a second trial of Saddam on Aug. 21.
In that trial, Saddam and six other former members of his regime will face charges of genocide for the Anfal Campaign in the 1980s that killed an estimated 100,000 Kurds and saw thousands of Kurdish villages razed.
Defense demands security
The defense began its boycott after the slaying of Khamis al-Obeidi, who was kidnapped from his Baghdad home on June 21 and shot to death. The defense team has blamed the slaying on Shiite militiamen.
In a letter to the court, the defense said it wanted “real and actual security for the defense lawyers and their families” by U.S. authorities.
It also demanded a 45-day recess to allow it to prepare its closing statements and a promise from the court that it would be allowed to take as long as it wishes in its final arguments.
Juhi, the court spokesman, said the defense had already rejected an offer of the same security precaution given to the judges and prosecution lawyers: residence inside the Green Zone, the fortified Baghdad neighborhood where the court is located.