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Hussein Rails as Trial Nears End

July 27, 2006|Borzou Daragahi | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Gaunt and pale but with his distinctive impertinence intact, Saddam Hussein emerged from a hunger strike Wednesday to make his final appearance during closing defense arguments in his trial on charges of mass murder of Shiite Muslim villagers.

The former Iraqi president, who had been fed through a tube while hospitalized for the last three days, lashed out at Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel Rahman, his court-appointed lawyers and the U.S. troops who toppled his dictatorship.

"You are my enemy," Hussein said, jabbing his finger at the court-appointed lawyer assigned to present his defense after his attorneys boycotted the trial. "Why do you impose yourself as an enemy of the Iraqi people?"

The unidentified attorney, his voice digitally disguised, continued reading from a final defense statement that ran 75 pages.

"I don't want my history to be stained by this," Hussein interrupted.

"You don't write the history," the judge retorted. "The people write it."

"Yes, the people and the people's heroes," said Hussein, who claimed he was forced to attend today's session and repeatedly asked to leave.

Hussein and other defendants went on a hunger strike to protest security conditions for the defense. Three defense lawyers have been shot dead in Baghdad since the trial began.

The often-scowling and razor-tongued Abdel Rahman has consistently refused to let Hussein or other codefendants steer the court's attention from the subject at hand: whether the former president and seven of his officials are culpable for the massacre of 148 Shiite villagers from the village of Dujayl in apparent reprisal after an assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader in 1982.

But on Wednesday, Hussein elicited a response from the judge when he voiced support for the so-called mujahedin, the Sunni Arab insurgents waging a campaign of bombings and shootings against American soldiers and the U.S.-backed government.

"You are provoking the killing of people by car bombs," Abdel Rahman said.

"I urge the killing of the hostile invaders," Hussein said. "And I urge their expulsion from here. So if the killing leads to their expulsion, I urge it."

Abdel Rahman, a member of Iraq's Kurdish ethnic minority, expressed outrage.

"If you are urging the killing of Americans, let your friends in the mujahedin attack the American camps and not blow themselves up in the streets and public places and cafes and markets," he said.

The court-appointed defense lawyer, reading in a monotone, raised dozens of points, including the hearsay nature of the evidence against Hussein.

He argued that the charges of mass murder were unwarranted, drawing on precedents set in tribunals examining war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

"The judgment can only be made based on facts and context," he said.

"It requires showing that the defendant's actions were based on a systematic attack on civilians and was intended as part of a systematic attack on civilians."

Hussein repeatedly interrupted the defense presentation. Once, he demanded that he be put to death by firing squad as befits a military man rather than by "hanging, like a common criminal."

A U.S. official close to the trial said Hussein was being tried as a civilian and not as a member of the military. "The firing squad would not be an option," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Hussein frequently raised his right hand and pointed to the judge or lawyer.

"I am not defending myself," he said. "I am defending Iraq. I am protecting the people of Iraq."

As his attorney ended his presentation, Hussein declined an offer to present his own defense, shouting at his lawyer, "Damn you!"

Afterward, Hussein broke his fast, eating bread and fruit and drinking a can of Coca-Cola, a U.S. official said.

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