Friday, September 15, 2006

Judge tells Saddam: "You are not a dictator"

Judge tells Saddam: "You are not a dictator"
By Ibon Villelabeitia

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial said on Thursday he did not think the ousted Iraqi leader was a "dictator", prompting a spokesman for the U.S.-sponsored court to defend its impartiality.

Abdulla al-Amiri made his comments one day after prosecutors demanded his resignation, complaining that he was too soft on Saddam, who had threatened to "crush the heads" of his accusers. They also complained he let Saddam make long speeches in court.

Questioning a Kurdish farmer who testified he had secured a face-to-face audience with Saddam in 1988 and begged him to spare the lives of his wife and seven children, the former president said: "If I'm a dictator, why did you come to see me?"

Amiri, who has compared his approach to the trial as that of a referee seeking "fairness", then addressed Saddam politely, saying: "You are not a dictator. It is the people who surround a man who make him a dictator". He did not elaborate.

Visibly pleased, Saddam uttered a respectful "Thank you" and then regained his seat in the Baghdad courtroom.

Iraqi High Tribunal chief investigator and spokesman Raed Juhi sought during a news conference later to distance the court, set up by U.S. occupying forces, from Amiri's comment.

"The court will continue with its neutrality and its course. The judge is only human," Juhi said.

"At the end, the judge will decide guilty or not guilty based on the evidence. This has no effect on the case."

Saddam and six former commanders face capital charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in the 1988 Anfal campaign prosecutors say left 182,000 Iraqi Kurds dead or missing. Saddam and his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known as "Chemical Ali", also face genocide charges.

Part of the prosecution case is expected to rest on how far Saddam was directly responsible for the actions of his troops.

Amiri, who is a member of the majority Shi'ite community which along with ethnic Kurds suffered widely under Saddam's Sunni-led rule, was not available for comment after the trial.


Earlier, farmer Abdulla Mohammad Hussain told the court how a furious Saddam shouted "Shut up and get out!" when he pleaded for the release of his family, including a 40-day-old daughter, who were rounded up in their village in northern Kurdistan.

"He told me to approach him and I begged him for their lives," he said, recounting a visit to one of Saddam's palaces in dramatic testimony during the fourth hearing this week of a trial that began last month.

Saddam, who has defended his policies of crushing Kurdish rebels fighting alongside Shi'ite Iran during the final years of the Iraq-Iran war, said he did not remember ever seeing the witness, who described himself as illiterate.

"Do you have a receipt that you saw me? The Presidential Palace always issued receipts to those who came to visit me?" Saddam asked of the alleged incident 18 years ago.

"No. You took the receipt away from me when I saw you," said Hussain, who is in his mid-50s and wore a traditional headdress.

The trial was adjourned until Monday.

The initial phase of the trial has featured a litany of often harrowing testimony from Kurdish survivors. Saddam is also awaiting a verdict in a first, separate, trial for crimes against humanity over the deaths of 148 Shi'ite men.