Two weeks ago, just before the trial was adjourned because of general elections, the 68-year-old Saddam boycotted proceedings after denouncing the legality of the tribunal and telling the judge to “go to hell”.
He and seven of his associates are being tried about the killing of 148 Shias from Dujail in the early 1980s after the former head of state was targeted by an assassination attempt at the village.
The trial resumed on Wednesday after a two-week break allowing for a key general election to elect the first full-term government since Saddam’s Baathist regime was toppled from power by the 2003 US-led invasion.
Witnesses, many hidden behind screens with disguised voices, have relayed chilling tales of torture while Saddam and his co-defendants loudly disputed their testimony and condemned the court.
Trial to be adjourned
The court is set to hear six more
One of Saddam’s defence lawyers told AFP that the court was set to hear testimony from six more “complainant” witnesses.
The trial, however, is not expected to extend past Thursday when it is likely to be adjourned again until mid-January because of the announcement of Iraq’s election results, holidays and the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makka.
Liable to be hanged if found guilty, Saddam, who once embodied Arab defiance of the West, is the first Middle East head of state to be tried by his own people.
Prosecutor Jaafar al-Mussawi had told AFP that the defence would present 40 witnesses, including three ministers from the former regime and other people being detained by US forces in Iraq.
But the defence has denied Mussawi’s remarks as “totally untrue,” saying it does not recognise the court, and is threatening to boycott the trial because of inadequate security assurances.
“Today was threatening, tomorrow will be a weapon”
Saddam’s lawyer Najib al-Nuami speaking about how he was threatened
Defence lawyer Najib al-Nuami said on Tuesday that he was threatened with death at Baghdad airport and that he would present a petition for better security during Wednesday’s session.
“Today was threatening, tomorrow will be a weapon,” he told AFP.
Two defence lawyers have already been assassinated since the trial began on 19 October.
Fellow defence lawyer, former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, has not returned to Baghdad out of security concerns, said Nuami, a former Qatari justice minister.
Instead, court sources said Curtis Doebbler, a US attorney, would ask to stand in his place at Wednesday’s session.
Hearings have been often chaotic, although chief judge Rizkar Mohammed Amin has been gradually asserting more control over rambling witnesses and noisy defendants.
Even on the day Saddam did not appear, his mantra was taken up by his half brother Barzan al-Tikriti, who ridiculed witnesses for not getting their facts straight and then complained loudly about the conditions of his detention.
People familiar with a closed session after Saddam’s furious tirade on 6 December reported that he had apologized to the judge for his behaviour and had asked to be excused from the next session in order to save face.
Ramsey Clark has not returned to
Clark and Nuami have challenged witness testimony as confused, fabricated and not directly implicating their clients.
In an “interview” conducted via Clark with British tabloid The Sun, Saddam offered a tantalizing version of his arrest by US troops two years ago.
Clark told the paper that before his client was cornered in a cramped underground hideout near his hometown on 13 December 2003, he had been “moving every day to a different location, organising the insurgents”.
“I believe I was betrayed. I have been set up,” Saddam said.
The trial has been followed closely by Iraqis and has threatened to exacerbate sectarian divisions in society.
Sunni Arabs have denounced the trial as rigged and illegal, while in Dujail and the Shia south, people called for Saddam’s swift conviction and execution.
On the eve of the resumption of the trial, scores of Shias, demonstrated in the southern city of Amara chanting “Death to Saddam”.