Defense Team Protests Witnesses' Arrests in Saddam Trial

The defense team in the trial of Saddam Hussein protested Monday over the arrest of four of its witnesses, saying some of them were beaten by Iraqi guards. The chief judge said they were jailed on suspicion of perjury.

The witnesses, who were jailed last week after testifying, included one who claimed some of the 148 Shiites that Saddam and his seven co-defendants are accused of killing are still alive.

CountryWatch: Iraq

The identities of the other three detained witnesses were not immediately known. The arrests came after Wednesday's session, when one witness alleged that the chief prosecutor in the trial, Jaafar al-Moussawi, had attempted to bribe him to testify against Saddam.

Al-Moussawi denied the charge, and chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman warned the witness he could face prosecution for perjury.

The eight co-defendants are accused of crimes against humanity in a sweep against the town of Dujail, including torturing prisoners and killing 148 Shiites sentenced to death for a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam.

The prosecution has said all 148 were either executed or were tortured to death before they were sentenced.

But defense lawyer Wadud Fawzi last week read a list of 15 names from the 148 who he said were still alive, died natural deaths later or were killed in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

"There are basic mistakes in the prosecution's case," Fawzi said. "We contest the authenticity of documents presented in this court and demand the court be halted to investigate the case."

Abdel-Rahman ordered the defense to provide documents proving the 15 were still alive or were not killed in the crackdown. But he refused to halt the trial and argued with Fawzi over the line of defense, saying, "All these demands are not helping your clients."

One of the defense's witness also testified last week that 23 of those sentenced to death were still alive and that he had met them recently in Dujail. The witness was among those arrested the next day, according to chief defense lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi.

Defense lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi said two of the witnesses were detained inside the court and the other two were arrested inside the Green Zone. He claimed they had been beaten by the Iraqi army.

The defense has argued that if some of the Shiites were not killed, it throws doubt on the entire prosecution case. Last week, it also presented a video it said showed that one of the prosecution's witnesses, Ali al-Haidari, perjured himself when he claimed on the stand that there had been no assassination attempt against Saddam in Dujail in 1982.

Abdel-Rahman has not moved to investigate al-Haidari for perjury. But he said he had ordered the four defense witnesses "detained for ... investigation."

"They committed perjury. Should I reward them?" he said.

The court on Monday heard two witnesses testifying on behalf of one of the lower-level defendants in the trial, Ali Dayih. But Abdel-Rahman chastised the defense for not having other witnesses ready. He adjourned the court until June 12.