- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2006

BAGHDAD — The new judge warned the court from the start he would throw out anyone who crossed the line. And when the dust settled from a whirlwind half-hour of shouts, arguments and obscenities, Saddam Hussein, three other defendants and all the defense lawyers were gone.

Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman imposed order on Saddam’s troubled trial, replacing the defense lawyers with court-appointed attorneys. But some questioned whether he did so at the cost of guaranteeing a fair hearing, a vital concern in sharply divided Iraq.

Three witnesses for the prosecution, meanwhile, got their say, describing mass detentions and torture after a 1982 attempt on Saddam’s life that led to a crackdown on Shi’ites in the northern town of Dujail.

The two women and a man testified from behind a beige curtain, with their voices distorted to hide their identities for fear of reprisals from Saddam’s supporters.

The 41/2 hour session, which was adjourned until later this week, was Judge Abdel-Rahman’s first at the helm, replacing a jurist who stepped down amid criticism that he was not doing enough to stop Saddam and his half brother, co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, from dominating the trial with frequent outbursts and disruptions.

The ousted Iraqi leader and his seven co-defendants could face death by hanging if convicted in the killing of at least 140 Shi’ites after the July 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is part of Saddam’s defense team but did not attend yesterday’s session, denounced the court as “lawless” and repeated calls for it to be moved out of Iraq.

“Now the court is seated without the defendants’ counsel of choice. This is wrong,” Mr. Clark said, speaking from New York.

Judge Abdel-Rahman wasted little time in distinguishing himself from his predecessor, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, telling the court at the start of the proceedings that anyone who broke the rules would be removed from the courtroom.

The session, which was the first since Dec. 22, rapidly degenerated into chaos. Al-Tikriti called the court “the daughter of a whore” and refused to sit down. Judge Abdel-Rahman ordered him removed, and al-Tikriti scuffled with two guards before they dragged him out of the courtroom.

Then defense lawyer Salih al-Armouti, a Jordanian, was forcibly removed from the court for yelling at Judge Abdel-Rahman.

The entire defense team walked out in protest. “This is an unjust and illegitimate court,” Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam’s chief attorney, told the judge on the way out.

Protesting al-Tikriti’s expulsion and shouting “down with traitors” and “down with America,” Saddam got into a heated argument with the judge, rejecting the court-appointed lawyers and demanding to leave.

When the judge ordered guards to remove him, Saddam — holding a Koran under his arm — became indignant, saying he was choosing to go.

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