BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein's genocide trial was adjourned on Tuesday until Oct. 9 to allow defendants to contact their lawyers or appoint new ones.
The adjournement was called by the chief judge after the trial resumed without the ex-president and his six co-defendants present in the courtroom. They had been expelled earlier by the judge following a shouting match.
A total of seven witnesses had been heard by the time the trial was adjourned.
Earlier, the trial resumed without the ex-president and his six co-defendants present in the courtroom, after a brief recess forced by a shouting match that led the judge to throw them out of the session.
Saddam and one of defendants were ejected from the courtroom earlier in the session, forcing the recess. All seven defendants argued loudly with the chief judge, Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa, who first removed Saddam from the court, then his former defense minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai.
An official close to the court said later al-Khalifa also threw out the remaining five defendants before the recess.
"They cannot come back into today's session," added the official on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to make statements to the press.
The outburst began when Saddam refused to remain silent after repeated requests to do so by the judge. Clutching his Koran, Saddam tried to make a statement, interrupting the prosecution's questioning of a witness.
"You are a defendant and I'm the judge," al-Khalifa said, telling Saddam to sit down. A defiant Saddam refused and continued speaking even though the judge shut off court microphones.
Saddam's six co-defendants then began a shouting match.
"Shut up, no one may speak ...," al-Khalifa shouted, pointing his finger at the defendant.
"The court decided to eject Saddam Hussein from the courtroom," al-Khalifa added.
Saddam left with a smile.
It was the second time in as many days that Saddam was ejected from the courtroom. Al-Khalifa acted after giving the deposed leader a stern warning to behave or be removed from court.
The other defendants stood up in protest and demanded to leave, but the judge refused.
Al-Tai was the most vocal, shouting insults at al-Khalifa and demanding he be able to leave as well.
The judge sharply ordered the bailiffs to ensure that the remaining defendants took their seats.
"I'm not sitting down," al-Tai shouted, pointing at the judge in a belligerent way. "I served in the army for 44 years and no one dared to shout at me. We are polite and well behaved."
Al-Khalifa growled: "You won't leave, but you can remain standing, if you wish."
But an enraged al-Tai kept yelling at the judge, who responded: "Don't raise your voice at me, you are a defendant."
"We decided to eject Sultan Hashim from the courtroom," al-Khalifa yelled.
But al-Tai, joined by the other five-defendants, continued to address the judge loudly, telling him "respect us."
Hussein Rashid Mohammed, a top army official under Saddam, also demanded to leave the courtroom. "I also want to leave ... This is rude, you should be responsible (for us leaving)."
Al-Khalifa ordered a one-hour recess and a curtain was abruptly closed on the journalists' gallery and microphones were cut off in the courtroom.
Saddam and his six co-defendants have been on trial since Aug. 21 for their roles in a 1987-1988 crackdown against Kurdish rebels.
The prosecution says about 180,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the military offensive — codenamed Operation Anfal — which allegedly included the use of chemical weapons. The defendants could face the death penalty if convicted.
In an earlier exchange Tuesday, al-Khalifa warned Saddam to respect court procedures, saying that he would be given an opportunity to speak, but that he would not be permitted to mock the proceedings.
"You are a defendant here. You have rights and obligations," al-Khalifa told Saddam.
"You can defend yourself, question witnesses ... and I am ready to allow you (to do so), but this is a court — not a political forum," he said.
"I'm willing to allow you anything that you desire, within the law ... until you tell me that you've got nothing more (evidence) to present," al-Khalifa added.
He told Saddam to limit his comments to matters pertinent to the trial and that he must rise to address the tribunal — "not to speak while sitting down."
"I won't tolerate that," the judge said, emphasizing that the defendants must respect the court.
"The truth will be revealed, through the court to the whole world, if you are innocent or guilty," he added.
But "by mocking the court and matters related to the court, you are only harming yourself and damaging your case," al-Khalifa said.
Saddam asked for permission to respond. When al-Khalifa agreed, the deposed Iraqi leader took out a piece of paper — apparently to read a prepared statement.
But the judge interrupted, saying he would not allow him to read it "if it was the same letter I received from you."
Saddam ignored the call. The judge allowed him to read the statement while he stood — taking 20 minutes to do so — but cut off microphones in the courtroom.
On Monday, Saddam was thrown out of the courtroom after he protested the court's appointment of lawyers, replacing his own.
Saddam's defense team boycotted proceedings Monday after having accused the court of violating judicial procedures. Al-Khalifa appointed replacement lawyers so the hearings could continue.
Four witnesses who took the stand Tuesday recalled the disappearance of family members and brutality at the hands of Saddam's military during Anfal.
Thameena Hameed Nouri, 51, said several family members, including her husband, fled their northern Iraqi village following heavy shelling by Iraqi forces. She said troops arrested villagers, separating the men from the women.
While at detention camp, troops beat her "3-year-old son in front of me, he was unconscious for 1 1/2 hours," she said. "We started screaming and crying, demanding they return our children."
"We were forced to drink contaminated water that harmed us, the children vomited and suffered from diarrhea. Lice covered our bodies," recalled the woman, who has a tribal tattoo on her chin.
Nouri said that she knew of three children dying in the camp, including her daughter Galala.