A Lawyer for Saddam Thrown Out of Court

Monday, May 22, 2006 2:36 PM EDT

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Guards grabbed Saddam Hussein's only female defense attorney and pulled her from the courtroom Monday, and the chief judge shouted down the deposed Iraqi leader - a raucous start to a new session of his trial.

After the squabbling, the court heard the first two defense witnesses for Saddam's half brother and ex-chief of his intelligence services, Barzan Ibrahim. One witness was Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, an ex-Saddam adviser and another half brother who has been in U.S. custody since February 2005.

Defense lawyer Bushra al-Khalil had been removed from an April trial session for arguing with chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman. Monday's shouting began after the judge told her she was now allowed back in court, but she insisted on knowing why she had been removed in the first place.

"Please, I want to know what procedures have I broken," al-Kahlil said, but Abdel-Rahman snapped at her, "Sit down."

"I would like to know what they are so that I do not repeat them," she said. "Sit down," the judge shouted again, then yelled at the guards to take her away.

Al-Khalil pulled off her judicial robe in anger and threw it on the floor, then tried to push away guards who grabbed her hands, yelling, "Get away from me."

As she was pulled out of the court, Saddam - sitting in the defendants' pen - objected. Abdel-Rahman told him to be silent. "I'm Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq. I am above you and above your father," Saddam shouted back.

"You are a defendant now, not a president," the judge barked.

The uproar was in contrast to recent sessions that have been orderly since Abdel-Rahman took a tough line against frequent outbursts by Saddam and his co-defendants. The judge first removed the Lebanese-born al-Khalil in an April 5 session after she tried to object to a video of Saddam shown by prosecutors.

Later Monday, an Egyptian lawyer on Saddam's defense team stood and objected to al-Khalil's expulsion, saying it aimed to "intimidate and frighten us." That sparked another shouting match with Abdel-Rahman, but the judge let him off with a warning.

The court heard defense witnesses for four hours, then adjourned until Wednesday. Saddam and seven former members of his regime face possible execution by hanging if convicted on charges of crimes against humanity in a crackdown against Shiites in the town Dujail in the 1980s.

Hundreds of men, women and children from Dujail were killed after a shooting attack on Saddam's motorcade there in 1982. Dozens died in prison, from torture and poor conditions, and 148 were sentenced to death by Saddam's Revolutionary Court for alleged connections to the assassination attempt.

Ibrahim is accused along with Saddam of ordering the crackdown. Testifying in his defense, Al-Hassan, wearing a white traditional robe and headdress, said Ibrahim told him after the shooting attack on Saddam that he went to Dujail only to make sure that the presidential guard had not been lax in its protection.

"I asked him (Ibrahim) whether they (the attackers) were from Dujail or not, and he said most of them were not," al-Hassan said.

Al-Hassan was among the regime figures U.S. military's list of 55 most-wanted suspects when U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003 and was suspected of being a leading financial backer of the anti-U.S. insurgency. No. 36 on the list, he was arrested in Syria, which handed him over to American forces in Iraq in February 2005.

Another witness for Ibrahim - a former general director of the anti-espionage branch of Saddam's intelligence services - testified from behind a curtain to protect his identity.

He told the court that the intelligence agency, or Mukhabarat, did not take "any special measures in the Mukhabarat building or arrested people or interrogations," trying to dispute claims that arrested families were held at the agency's headquarters in Dujail.

Monday's first witness was a former staffer of the Revolutionary Court, Murshid Mohammed Jassim. He testified on behalf of defendant Awad al-Bandar, a judge accused of convicting the 148 Dujail residents without a proper trial.

Jassim, an elderly man who shook his cane at times as he spoke, acknowledged that he did not work at the court at the time of the Dujail trial in 1984. But he insisted the court was "the most fair, the most just ... (Al-Bandar) is a quiet, polite, fair man."

He said the Revolutionary Court always ensured that defendants had lawyers and that Saddam's regime never intervened in its proceedings.

Referring to the ejection of al-Khalil, al-Bandar asked Jassim, "Were defense lawyers ever thrown out of court when they tried to make an argument?"

No, Jassim said, "lawyers were always treated with respect in accordance with the law."

In earlier sessions, al-Bandar insisted the Dujail trial was "fair and just," saying the defendants confessed. But he acknowledged that there was only one defense lawyer for all 148 and that the trial only lasted 16 days.

Saddam and his co-defendants have argued the Dujail crackdown was a legal response to the assassination attempt. But the chief judge has said the trial was "swift" with "no chance for appeal," and the prosecution has argued that it was a show trial in which the defendants had no opportunity to present their cases. Prosecutors have presented documents showing that minors younger than 18 were convicted, including an 11-year-old.

The prosecution has also argued the crackdown went far beyond the perpetrators of the attack on Saddam, sweeping up entire families to try to punish the entire town.