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Saddam, Back in Court, Lashes Out at Judges

A combative Saddam Hussein lashed out Monday at his treatment by American "occupiers and invaders" and lectured the chief judge about leadership as his trial resumed in a rambling and unfocused session.

Two of the seven other defendants also spoke out during the 2 1/2-hour hearing, complaining of their treatment in detention or dissatisfaction with their court-appointed counsel.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who has joined the defense team as an advisor, said it was "extremely difficult" to assure fairness in the trial "because the passions in the country are at a fever pitch."

"How can you ask a witness to come in when there's a death threat?" Clark told CNN. "Unless there's protection for the defense, I don't know how the trial can go forward."

The tribunal adjourned until Dec. 5, only 10 days before the country's parliamentary elections, to give the defense time to replace lawyers who have been assassinated since the trial opened Oct. 19. Monday was the trial's second session.

The court's tolerance of vocal complaints from the defendants drew sharp criticism from Shiite politicians who contend the tribunal is trying too hard to accommodate an ousted dictator who should have already been convicted and executed.

"The chief judge should be changed and replaced by someone who is strict and courageous," said Shiite legislator Ali al-Adeeb, a senior official in Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's party.

Saddam, immaculately groomed and the only defendant wearing Western clothes, moved quickly to try to seize control of the proceedings at the heavily guarded Baghdad court.

Dressed in black trousers and a gray jacket with a white handkerchief in the breast pocket, the 68-year-old former president was the last defendant to enter the chamber.

While other defendants appeared frightened and exhausted, Saddam swaggered confidently to his seat, greeting people along the way with the traditional Arabic greeting, "Peace be upon the people of peace" as he cradled a copy of the Quran.

Saddam began with a verse from the Muslim holy book that reminds believers who aspire for heaven that God knows who actually participated in jihad, or holy war.

He then complained that he had to walk up four flights of stairs in shackles and accompanied by "foreign guards" because the elevator was not working.

The chief judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said he would tell the police not to let that happen again.

"You are the chief judge," Saddam snapped back, speaking like a president to a subordinate. "I don't want you to tell them. I want you to order them. They are in our country. You have the sovereignty. You are Iraqi and they are foreigners and occupiers. They are invaders. You should order them."

Saddam also complained that some of his papers had been taken from him.

"How can a defendant defend himself if his pen was taken? Saddam Hussein's pen and papers were taken. I don't mean a white paper. There are papers downstairs that include my remarks in which I express my opinion," he said.

Amin ordered bailiffs to give Saddam pen and paper.

The tribunal allowed Clark and prominent lawyers from Qatar and Jordan to joined the defense team as advisers, a move aimed at convincing foreign human rights groups that the trial would meet international standards of fairness.

Also, the chief judge ordered all handcuffs and shackles removed from the defendants before they entered the courtroom — another gesture toward the accused.

The defendants stand accused of killing more than 140 Shiite Muslims after an assassination attempt against Saddam in the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982. Convictions could bring a sentence of death by hanging.

None of the nearly 35 prosecution witnesses testified Monday, but the prosecution entered into evidence two videotapes — one shot in the aftermath of the assassination attempt showing Saddam in military uniform interrogating three villagers. The second was a videotaped statement by former intelligence officer Wadah Israel al-Sheik made last month shortly before he died of cancer.

Amin read the transcript as the tape played without sound. According to the transcript, al-Sheik, who appeared frail and sat in a wheelchair in a U.S.-controlled hospital, said about 400 people were detained after the assassination attempt, although he estimated only seven to 12 gunmen actively participated in the ambush of Saddam's convoy.

"I don't know why so many people were arrested," al-Sheik said, adding that Ibrahim, head of intelligence at the time, "was the one directly giving the orders."

A day after the assassination attempt, whole families were rounded up and taken to Abu Ghraib prison, he said.

Al-Sheik noted that co-defendant Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president, headed a committee that ordered orchards — the basis of Dujail's livelihood — to be destroyed because they were used to conceal the assailants.

At the end of the session, Saddam's half brother and fellow defendant, Barazan Ibrahim, complained he had not received proper medical treatment since being diagnosed with cancer and that this amounted to "indirect murder." Defendant Awad al-Bandar claimed he and Saddam had been threatened in court last month. The judge told him to submit his complaints in writing.

Amin then adjourned the hearing until next Monday. Saddam's personal attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, complained the defense needed at least a month. Amin suspended the hearing for 10 minutes to confer with the four other judges and then announced that the Monday date was firm.

The slow pace of the proceedings has angered many Iraqis — especially majority Shiites — who believe Saddam should have already been punished for his alleged crimes. Shiites and Kurds were heavily oppressed by Saddam's Sunni Arab-dominated regime.

"Iraqis are beginning to feel frustrated," said Ridha Jawad Taki, a senior official in the country's biggest Shiite party. "The court should be more active. Saddam was captured two years ago. ... The weakness of this court might affect the verdicts, and this is worrying us."

However, Clark and others argue that a fair trial is impossible in Iraq because of the insurgency and because the country is effectively under foreign military occupation, despite U.S. and Iraqi assurances that the trial will conform to international standards.

Clark, who was attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson, is a staunch anti-war advocate who met with Saddam days before the 2003 invasion. He has also consulted several times with one-time Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is on trial in The Hague, Netherlands, on war crimes charges.

Saddam's trial has unleashed passions at a time of rising tensions between the country's Shiite and Sunni communities. Government security services are dominated by Shiites and Kurds, while Sunni Arabs form the backbone of the insurgency.

In Baghdad, Shiite businessman Saadoun Abdul-Hassan stayed home Monday to watch the trial on television but expressed disappointment over the pace.

"Saddam does not need witnesses or evidence. The mass graves are the biggest witness and he should be executed in order for the security situation to improve," he said.

In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, however, merchant Adnan Barzan called Saddam the "legitimate president" of Iraq and said that "those who speak about mass graves and about Dujail should go see what the new government is doing."

"They will find real mass graves dug by this government and not by the government of Saddam Hussein," Barzan said.