BAGHDAD, Iraq – A lawyer for Saddam Hussein said one of his witnesses had been killed and complained of restrictions on the case.
The defense did not identify the slain witness or give details on how or when he was killed, but it said the death illustrated the difficulties undermining an effective defense of Saddam and seven former members of his regime.
"The defense is not free to present its witnesses the way the prosecution is," one of the defense lawyers told chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman. "There are restrictions that limit us, as well as the security provisions necessary to bring the witnesses to the court. Some days ago, one of the witnesses who testified before us was killed."
The lawyer, who is among those on the team whose names have not been made public for security reasons, said the defense is limited because some potential witnesses are wanted by the U.S. military or Iraqi government and so won't appear. He did not elaborate.
For weeks, the defense has been presenting its case in the 7-month-old trial of Saddam and his co-defendants. They are accused of crimes against humanity, including killing and torture stemming from an Shiites prompted by an assassination attempt against Saddam in the town of Dujail in 1982.
Early in the trial, two defense lawyers were killed, raising complaints from the team over their security. On Monday, a defense lawyer accused a spectator in the audience of being a member of a Shiite militia who has threatened lawyers in the past. The judge ejected the spectator from the court.
An effective defense is key to ensure a fair trial, a major concern for U.S. and Iraqi leaders who have hoped the tribunal can help Iraq's deeply divided Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds put the alleged atrocities by Saddam's regime behind them.
The comments came as Abdel-Rahman chided the defense for trying to add to its list of witnesses, saying it must ensure its witnesses can directly address the charges facing Saddam.
"The key is not the number of witnesses, but the quality of their testimony. That's in your interest. If you come with 100 witnesses but they aren't effective for your defense ... the court won't take it," he said.
Abdel-Rahman has shown increasing impatience with a string of witnesses who had no direct connection to the Dujail case. For example, the defense has brought employees of the Revolutionary Court that sentenced 148 Shiites from Dujail to death for the attack on Saddam. Each has insisted the court was a fair one -- but none were involved in the Dujail trial.
The defense on Tuesday tried to introduce CD videos as evidence in the trial. But Abdel-Rahman refused to show them immediately in court and told the lawyers to make a written request to submit them, sparking a new argument.
Saddam interjected that Abdel-Rahman should give the defense as much time as the prosecution.
"I would insist not come here if I did not respect the judicial system," Saddam told the judge. "My respect for the judicial system is the reason behind accepting my collegues to defend me and to present my case before Iraqis and public opinion."
"The prosecution presented all his witness one by one. We have nothing here, just talk, but when even talk is forbidden then we enter an imbalance," he said. "To attain balance we have to give the same opportunity to the defense witnesses."
Co-defendants Awad al-Bandar pointed to videos shown by the prosecution in previous sessions on the same day they were introduiced.
"Why can the prosecution present CDs and have them played right away, while the defense has to go through all this?" he said.