Treatment of Shiites questioned at trial

By Bassem Mroue The Associated Press

BAGHDAD – A former judge from Saddam Hussein’s regime admitted yesterday to sentencing 148 Shiites to death in the 1980s, but maintained they received a fair trial and had confessed to trying to assassinate the former Iraqi leader.

Another co-defendant also defended the crackdown against Shiites, saying it was a legal response to the assassination attempt.

Saddam and his half brother, former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim – who did not appear yesterday – are expected to testify in the next session Wednesday.

The former Iraqi leader and seven regime officials are charged with killing the 148 Shiites, as well as illegal imprisonment and torture of hundreds of others in the crackdown launched after Saddam’s motorcade was fired on as it passed through the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982. They face possible execution by hanging if convicted.

Taha Yassin Ramadan – once a member of Saddam’s inner ruling circle, who is accused of helping direct the crackdown and organizing the razing of Dujail farmlands in retaliation – denied any role but challenged the court, calling it an illegitimate creation of the United States.

“This trial is the oddity of our era … A legitimate president is being tried because his motorcade came under fire,” he said, referring to Saddam.

He said members of the Iranian-backed Shiite opposition Dawa Party tried to kill Saddam and the 148 Shiites tried and sentenced to death in the crackdown “spoke frankly about what they did.”

His comments echoed those of Saddam in an earlier session. Last month, Saddam admitted in court that he ordered the 148 Shiites put on trial before his Revolutionary Court, but said it was his right to do so because they were suspected of trying to kill him.

Prosecutors are trying to show Saddam’s regime sought to punish the town’s civilian population. Hundreds of people were arrested – including entire families, with women and young children – and detained for years.

They argue the Revolutionary Court trial was “imaginary,” with no chance of defense, and have produced documents showing 10 juveniles – including some as young as 11 and 13 – were among those sentenced to death.

The head of the Revolutionary Court, Awad al-Bandar, came under tough questioning Monday from chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman and chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi over the conduct of the 1984 trial.

Al-Bandar acknowledged he sentenced the Shiites to death but said their trial was conducted “in accordance with the law.”

He said all confessed to their role in the attack and that they were given a two-trial that they attended, with lawyers.

“How did you take the testimonies of 148 persons that quickly?” the judge asked him.

“We were at war with Iran, and they confessed that they did their act at orders coming from Iran,” al-Bandar said.

Al-Moussawi presented documents from the Mukhabarat intelligence agency at the time stating that some of the 148 died during interrogation before they could be executed. He repeatedly asked al-Bandar how all the defendants could have appeared before the Revolutionary Court if some had already died.

Al-Bandar insisted all 148 were there, but finally threw up his hands, saying, “Is it so strange and surprising that someone might die in interrogation?”

“This shows that the defendants themselves were not referred before the court, only their papers. And the death sentences were based solely on those papers,” al-Moussawi argued.

Ramadan – who was a member of Saddam’s Baath Party Command and the Revolutionary Command Council at the time and became vice president in 1991 – denied accounts by earlier witnesses he came to Dujail after the attack on Saddam’s motorcade.

“I did not visit Dujail the first day or the second day (after the attack),” he insisted “Had I gone, it would not have been a crime. But I did not go.”

Ramadan said U.S. troops and CIA agents beat him with metal batons and sticks after he was captured in 2003. He said they hit him, demanding to know the hiding place of Saddam, who was still on the run after the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces and was captured several months after Ramadan in December 2003.

Before al-Bandar, another of the lower-level defendants, Mohammed Azawi Ali, testified yesterday, denying the same charges.

“I didn’t detain anyone, not even a bug. I didn’t write any reports about people, and if there is someone in Dujail who says this bring him here and let him face me,” Ali told the court.