Sat, Dec 24, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Scores level as Saddam's trial adjourns for year

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

The court trying former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity adjourned on Thursday for a month, leaving Iraqis to ponder what it has achieved so far.

Before the recess, on only the seventh day of testimony in the nine weeks since the trial began, the proceedings teetered on the edge of chaos as Saddam unleashed another of the anti-US diatribes that have become so familiar in the court. The disruption seemed to reinforce questions circling the trial about whether it can be an effective vehicle for securing justice for Saddam's victims or whether, as critics have suggested, it has become a platform for him to stoke the insurgency raging across Iraq.

In calling a recess until Jan. 24, chief judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin was allowing for Iraq's New Year celebrations and for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which reaches a peak in January. But US officials who played a major role in organizing the court have said that the month's break will also give Amin time to rethink the wide leeway he has given Iraq's former ruler to dominate the trial.

The impatience with which Saddam's victims have watched the televised proceedings found echoes in remarks made by Christopher Reid, the Justice Department lawyer who heads the US effort to guide the Iraqi court, after Saddam's outbursts. On Wednesday, Saddam had said that he and his co-defendants had been tortured by US military guards. He repeated the charge on Thursday and said that in dismissing it, White House officials had again revealed themselves as "liars," as he said they were when they claimed Iraq had chemical weapons before the invasion in 2003.

Reid, head of the Regime Crimes Liaison Office, a US Embassy agency, said in a posting on the White House Web site on Wednesday that Amin "knows that the defense has announced a strategy of delay and disruption, and he needs to deal with that," as well assuring that the trial is fair.

Reid added, "So I expect that at least early in the process he is going to err on the side of letting the defendants speak, and, when necessary, taking breaks. I expect that when the court comes back in January, they will pick up the pace."

In court, Saddam again seized control on Thursday, using a verse from the Koran to denounce court officials and prosecution witnesses as "blasphemers," and cursing US President George W. Bush, saying "to hell with him and his father" for the two wars the US launched against him. Ceding to demands from Saddam, Amin expelled an Iraqi bailiff who had moved assertively in the court to quell an outburst by Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and co-defendant.

At different moments, one of the prosecution lawyers and the entire defense team threatened to walk out.

Throughout the proceedings, Amin, a Kurdish judge, has allowed the defendants to harangue the court in ways that have seemed calculated to stir resistance against the US and its Iraqi allies. Saddam has led the tirades, supported by Ibrahim, who headed the Mukhabarat intelligence agency, and by Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president and one of Saddam's most ruthless associates.

They were joined by Awad al-Bandar, head of the revolutionary court when it ordered the execution of 148 men and teenage boys from Dujail, a mainly Shiite town north of Baghdad, after an alleged assassination attempt on Saddam there in 1982. The killings are at the heart of the charges in this trial.

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