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Saddam's Trial Resumes Without His Presence


A day after shouting that he would not return to an unjust courtroom, former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein refused to appear in court Wednesday. Saddam's absence delayed the start of the trial, but did not stop it.

Court proceedings came to a halt for nearly four hours Wednesday morning, as Saddam Hussein's lawyers discussed the standoff with Chief Justice Rizgar Mohammed Amin behind closed doors.

At the close of session Tuesday, Saddam complained bitterly about the way he was being treated, which he said amounted to "terrorism." He said that he and seven other defendants had not been allowed to shower, to change clothes, exercise, or even smoke.

The former Iraqi dictator said he would not come back and told the court to, "go to hell."

Under Iraqi law, the court could have forced Saddam to appear. But Judge Amin decided to push on without him.

The other defendants returned to court. Saddam's black chair, at the front of the defense dock, sat conspicuously empty as two more prosecution witnesses took the stand.

Following Tuesday's court appearance of three witnesses who testified anonymously, the witnesses on Wednesday also sat behind a curtain to protect their identities.

A man known only as "Witness F" told the court that he was arrested after the failed assassination attempt of Saddam Hussein in the town of Dujail in 1982. He said he was taken to the ruling Baath Party headquarters, where he heard prisoners screaming as they were being beaten.

Witness F then charged that one of the defendants in the trial, Barzan Ibrahim, personally gave instructions to guards to keep him locked up. Barzan Ibrahim is Saddam Hussein's half brother, who was in charge of the notorious Iraqi intelligence service.

Witness F says he gave his name to an interrogator, who then turned to Barzan Ibrahim and asked what should be done with Witness F. Witness F says Barzan told the interrogator to keep him detained because he could be useful later on.

But under questioning from Judge Amin, Witness F said he was blindfolded at the time and thought it was Barzan Ibrahim, speaking because other prisoners told him so.

After four sessions of similarly vague testimony, some legal observers have voiced doubts about the strength of the Dujail case against the defendants.

Saddam and seven members of his overthrown regime are accused of killing more than 140 people in the Shi'ite town of Dujail, as retribution for the assassination attempt on Saddam. The eight men face the death penalty, if found guilty.

Since the trial began on October 19, Saddam and Barzan have both staged dramatic confrontations with the court. They have repeatedly tried to take over the proceedings, insisting that the trial is an "illegitimate theater put on by occupiers."

The trial has been adjourned for two weeks while Iraq goes to the polls on December 15h to elect the first full-term government and national assembly of the post-Saddam era.