BAGHDAD, Iraq – A defendant in Saddam Hussein's Kurdish genocide trial told the court Tuesday that his lawyer wanted to end his boycott of the trial, but when the judge summoned the attorney, he failed to appear.
And the chief defense lawyer for Saddam denied in an interview that any of the attorneys had ended their three-week boycott of the trial.
The back-and-forth was a continuation of the procedural difficulties that have plagued the trial in which Saddam and six members of his regime are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity during a military offensive against Iraq's Kurdish population in 1987-88. Saddam and one other defendant are also charged with genocide.
A Kurdish witness — Mutalib Mohammed Salman, 78 — told the court Tuesday that his wife and 32 relatives disappeared in 1988 after troops overran his village in northern Iraq.
Salman said his wife's body and the remains of two other relatives were found in a mass grave after Saddam's regime was toppled in 2003.
The man said that after his arrest in the offensive, he was kept at a prison where the conditions were so bad that an average of 30 persons a day died from malnutrition.
On the boycott issue, Sultan Hashim Al-Tai, who was minister of defense under Saddam, told the court that he had spoken to his two counsel and "they want to attend." He added they were waiting outside.
But when chief judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa called the lawyers in, the bailiff reported they were not outside.
The judge said he would communicate with al-Tai's two counsel and tell them they would be allowed to retake their seats in the trial.
The two lawyers could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Later, chief defense counsel Khalil al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press that al-Tai's lawyers would not abandon the boycott.
"We coordinate very closely and they told me they don't want to attend," Khalil al-Dulaimi said. He added the defense lawyers would end their boycott only after the court has granted their demands.
The defense team withdrew from the trial last month when the chief judge was replaced on grounds of his being too soft on Saddam. The lawyers protested the judge's dismissal and said they would return when the court gave them more time to review the prosecution's documents and allowed foreign lawyers to attend the hearings without restrictions.
"From my previous experience with this court, I don't think it will meet our demands," al-Dulaimi said Tuesday.
The prosecution says about 180,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the offensive, codenamed Operation Anfal. If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to death by hanging.