BAGHDAD, Iraq – Handwriting experts authenticated Saddam Hussein's signature on memos approving death sentences for 148 Shiites during a crackdown in the 1980s, the chief judge in his trial said Wednesday.
The chief defense lawyer and several of Saddam's co-defendants claimed they were the victims of bias and demanded that the documents be examined by international experts.
The ousted leader sat silently throughout the three-hour session, but several of his seven co-defendants disputed the experts' report, calling it biased and demanding an international panel examine the documents.
The eight defendants are on trial for the deaths of the 148 Shiites and the imprisonment of hundreds more in a crackdown following an assassination attempt against Saddam in the mainly Shiite town of Dujail in 1982.
In Wednesday's session, chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman read the report from the experts saying that the signatures on two memos, dated Oct. 10, 1982, and June 16, 1984, "matched the signatures of Saddam Hussein" on other documents not related to the Dujail case.
The 1982 document orders that farmlands taken from Dujail families in retaliation for the assassination attempt be handed over to the Agriculture Ministry.
The 1984 memo approves the death sentences against the 148, issued by Saddam's Revolutionary Court two days earlier.
The report did not give details on the documents' contents. But the dates and catalogue numbers matched those of the two memos presented to the court by prosecutors earlier in the six-month-old trial.
After a session of about three hours, Abdel-Rahman adjourned the trial until April 24 to allow experts to look at more documents.
During Monday's trial session, the experts said they had authenticated Saddam's signature on a 1982 memo approving rewards for six intelligence agents involved in the crackdown. They also said signatures on other documents were those of co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim, the former head of the feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency.
Saddam had refused to confirm or deny that his signatures are on the documents. Ibrahim and some of the other co-defendants claimed that their signatures were forged.
The defense has argued that the crackdown in Dujail was legal because it was in response to the assassination attempt against Saddam.
The prosecution has sought to show that the crackdown went far beyond the perpetrators of the attempt on Saddam's life, with entire families — including women and children — arrested in the sweep that followed. It says the 148 sentenced to death included minors as young as 11.
Chief defense lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi repeated his demand that an international team of experts be called in to examine the documents.
The current team "lacks the experience and appropriate means to examine the handwriting," he said.
Ibrahim denounced the experts' report as a "script directed by [chief prosecutor] Jaafar al-Moussawi to give credibility" to the case.
"The general prosecution is obviously biased and wants to use everything to convict us," Ibrahim said. "I demand a non-biased and non-Iraqi committee [of handwriting experts] because there is a crisis in trust between us."
"I'm not afraid the punishment but I'm afraid of my reputation being defamed," he said. "Why should I kill 148 people? ... Al-Dujail's people are our family and part of our country. They know exactly who arrested them and who razed their farms. If you want to put it on my head, then show the proof."
The prosecution is wrapping up its case against Saddam and the former officials from his regime, and the defense is expected to begin its arguments in upcoming sessions.
Abdel-Rahman on Wednesday approved lists of witnesses that defense lawyers for three defendants — Abdullah al-Ruwayyid; his son, Mizhar al-Ruwayyid; and Mohammed al-Azzawi — plan to bring to the stand. The judge called on the lawyers of the other defendants to present their own witness lists.
Saddam and his seven co-defendants could face execution by hanging if convicted.