- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2006

BAGHDAD — Saddam Hussein and four other defendants refused to attend a new session of their trial yesterday and their attorneys boycotted the proceedings, demanding the removal of the chief judge, who they claim is biased against the former Iraqi leader.

Chief Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman pressed ahead with court-appointed defense lawyers and only three defendants present. Five prosecution witnesses were heard before the 4 hour session was adjourned until today.

One witness, a woman, testified that she was arrested by Saddam’s security forces and tortured in prison. She said she was stripped naked, hung by her feet and kicked repeatedly in the chest by Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam’s half brother and intelligence chief at the time and the top co-defendant in the trial.

“What crime have we all committed to go through this agony?” she said, speaking from behind a beige curtain to preserve her anonymity.

Judge Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd, kept things brisk, telling witnesses and lawyers to get to the point. His no-nonsense style underlined his determination to move on with the landmark trial despite the turmoil surrounding the court.

Saddam and co-defendants are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shi’ites after a 1982 attempt on the ex-president’s life in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad. They face death by hanging if convicted.

The judge ordered the proceedings closed for the first half-hour, barring press and television journalists from the courtroom. It was not clear whether Saddam was brought for the hearing, and court officials did not say what took place.

When the session was later opened to the public, Saddam and four other co-defendants were not present.

The initial defense team chosen by Saddam and his seven co-defendants have petitioned the tribunal to remove Judge Abdel-Rahman, saying they will not attend until that happens. The former Iraqi leader and four other defendants have refused to work with the replacement lawyers.

The defense has accused the judge of having a “personal feud” with Saddam because he was born in the village of Halabja, which was subjected to a 1988 poison-gas attack purportedly ordered by Saddam. Some 5,000 Kurds were killed in that attack, including several of Judge Abdel-Rahman’s relatives.

“The judge is an enemy to my client,” said Saddam’s chief attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi, who stayed in the Jordanian capital, Amman, yesterday.

Mr. al-Dulaimi also claimed that Saddam’s regime tried Judge Abdel-Rahman in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison in 1977. He said the judge was a member of a Kurdish party that was opposed to Saddam and so “holds political animosity with the defendant.”

When a defense lawyer raised the issue at the end of yesterday’s hearing, Judge Abdel-Rahman said the court had yet to receive a formal note asking for his removal.

Judge Abdel-Rahman was brought in as chief judge Sunday to replace his predecessor, who resigned amid criticism he was not doing enough to control the proceedings.

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