28/11/2005

First evidence heard in Saddam trial

The trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has heard the first prosecution evidence as his trial, on charges of crimes against humanity, resumed today.

Saddam and his seven co-defendants, including his former intelligence chief and half-brother Barazan Ibrahim and former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan, have all denied charges of murder and torture.

The charges relate to the killing of 148 men and boys from the largely Shia town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982, following a failed assassination attempt on the former Iraqi President.

The court heard the videotaped testimony of Wadah Ismael al-Sheik, a former official of Saddam’s regime, who investigated the assassination attempt. Mr Sheik, who made the video shortly before his death from cancer, said that 400 people in the town of Dujail were detained after assassination attempt, although it had been estimated that between seven and 12 people had carried out the ambush.

Mr Sheik said that a day after the assassination attempt, entire families were rounded up and taken to Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and, a year later, they were moved to another detention centre in southern Iraq.

Mr Sheik also said that Saddam had decorated intelligence officers who had taken part in the operation and also noted that his co-defendant, former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan, had ordered the destruction of orchards in Dujail, where the gunmen who attacked Saddam’s convoy had hidden.

The former Iraqi dictator was reported to be on “combative” form, when he arrived in court today. He complained to Judge Rizgar Amin about a broken down lift, which had forced him to walk up stairs to the courtroom while in shackles, and also complained about being accompanied about foreign guards.

All the defendants could face execution, if found guilty.

Security has been tight at the court, following the assassination of two defence lawyers. A plot to kill Judge Amin has also been uncovered and threats have been made against witnesses.

It was reported that the entire defence team had threatened to boycott proceedings, follow the assassinations and threats.

The trial has now been adjourned until December 5.

(KMcA/SP)

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