Saddam Prefers Firing Squad to Hanging 'Like a Common Criminal'

A thinner but combative Saddam Hussein said Wednesday he would rather die by firing squad like a soldier than hang "like a common criminal," as the defiant ex-president made his final appearance before the tribunal until it renders a verdict.

The prosecution has asked for the death penalty for Saddam and two of the other seven defendants for their role in the deaths of Shiites in a crackdown following a 1982 assassination attempt against the Iraqi ruler in Dujail.

Saddam, dressed in a white open-collar shirt and dark jacket, was in court to hear his court-appointed attorney read a final summation, arguing that prosecution witnesses and documents failed to link the ex-president to any of the atrocities in Dujail.

But that did not sit well with the 69-year-old Saddam, who denounced the lawyer as his "enemy" and claimed the summation was drafted by foreigners he accused of manipulating the trial since it began Oct. 19.

CountryWatch: Iraq

Saddam also said he was brought by the Americans against his will from a hospital, where he was rushed Sunday on the 17th day of a hunger strike and fed through a tube. Despite more than two weeks without food, Saddam seemed thinner but no less vigorous, although his energy appeared to wane in the final minutes of the hearing.

"I was brought against my will directly from the hospital," Saddam told the chief judge, Raouf Abdel-Rahman. "The Americans insisted that I come against my will. This is not fair."

In a rambling statement that was often interrupted by the judge, Saddam said he would rather die by firing squad and "not by hanging as a common criminal" if he is convicted and sentenced to death.

"I ask you, being an Iraqi person, that if you reach a verdict of death, execution, remember that I am a military man and should be killed by firing squad and not by hanging as a common criminal," said Saddam, who never served in the military ranks but appointed himself a general after taking power in 1979.

That brought a rebuke from Abdel-Rahman, who reminded Saddam the five-judge panel has not finished the trial, much less reached a verdict.

The judge also challenged Saddam's assertion that he had been brought to court against his will.

"You were not brought here against your will," the judge said. "Here's the medical report .. and it indicates that you are in good shape."

"I didn't say I was ill," Saddam snapped back. "I was on a hunger strike."

Saddam repeated a theme he has voiced since the start of the trial — that the Iraqi High Tribunal is an illegal instrument of the American occupation and that a fair trial is impossible.

"We not only resist this occupation. We do not acknowledge it. We do not acknowledge all the decisions it has made, including appointing the so-called government and this court you represent," Saddam said.

After arguing with the judge, Saddam, pointing his finger defiantly, barked: "Not even 1,000 people like you can terrify me."

Referring to the Americans, Saddam added: "The invaders only understand the language of the gun. I am in prison, but the knights outside will liberate the country."

During one outburst, Abdel-Rahman accused Saddam of inciting violence against Iraqis.

"I am inciting the killing of Americans and invaders, not the killing of Iraqis," Saddam responded. "I am Saddam Hussein. I call on Iraqis to be in harmony and work on evicting the invaders."

Abdel-Rahman asked if that were true why insurgents were killing more Iraqi civilians than American soldiers.

"Why are they attacking Iraqis in coffee shops and markets? Why don't they go detonate themselves among Americans?" the judge asked.

Saddam snapped: "This case is not worth the urine of an Iraqi child."

The ex-dictator then called on his supporters to kill Americans, saying, "If you see an American vehicle and you can strike it," before being cut off when the judge switched off his microphones.

In Jordan, Saddam's defense lawyers rebuked the court for "forcing" the deposed leader to attend Wednesday's hearing. They said allowing court-appointed lawyers to replace them deprived Saddam and his co-defendants of the "minimum requirement to adequate defense."

"It's clear that we stand before prepared decisions and the defense is only needed to add legitimacy to those decisions," the lawyers said in a statement.

It was Saddam's first appearance before the tribunal since June 19, when chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi asked the court to find him guilty and sentence him to death. Al-Moussawi also asked for the death sentence for former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

He recommended one defendant be acquitted and the others receive lesser sentences.

Saddam began refusing food the night of July 7 to protest the trial and demand better security for his defense team — three of whom have been assassinated. The other team members have boycotted the proceedings since their colleague, Khamis al-Obeidi, was kidnapped and murdered June 21.

The court appointed new attorneys for final summations. The last two summations are expected to be delivered Thursday, after which the five judges will adjourn to consider a verdict, possibly to be delivered in mid-August.

Saddam is due to stand trial Aug. 21 in the crackdown on the Kurds in the 1980s. If he is convicted, appeal is automatic and it is unlikely the sentence will be carried out until the government finishes other cases against him.