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May 24, 2006
Saddam The Populist

The defense continued today at the trial of Saddam Hussein, but not without a stern warning from the chief judge about courtroom dramatics. That did not keep Saddam from once again challenging the court's authority, although more briefly this time than before, but it did keep the defense attorneys from engaging in hysterics:

Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman opened the session with a sharp warning to the defense lawyers and eight defendants that he would not allow insults to the court. In the previous session, Abdel-Rahman threw out a woman defense lawyer when she tried to speak after he warned her not to.

"From the beginning, we have said that this court is a transparent one and the defense team and defendants are allowed to express their attitude in a democratic way. No one is allowed, whoever he is and under any name, to attack the court, its employees and the Iraqi people," he said.

The defense immediately tested that resolve when Saddam's fellow defendant and half-brother Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Takriti stood up and complained that the judge was being too harsh on the defendants and their attorneys. He scolded Abdel-Rahman for failing to understand the scope of the case and for insulting a woman, an attorney he had bodily removed earlier this week when she refused to stop disrupting the trial. Abdel-Rahman warned Barzan to stop once, which Barzan ignored -- until the guard entered the dock, when the defendant sat down.

However, Saddam popped up himself at this point:

"Do you want to shut people's mouths this way?" Saddam spoke up from him seat.

"Quiet. You are a defendant," Abdel-Rahman yelled.

"I am Saddam Hussein, your president, and you did elect me," Saddam shouted back.

Saddam must be referring to two plebescites he conducted during the final years of his dictatorship, when he won election by 99.2% and 100% of the vote, respectively. I had no idea Saddam set such a store by elections; after all, he came to power in an armed coup and consolidated his power through a bloody purge. In fact, Saddam was so popular that he ran unopposed in those two elections. Well, not quite; officially, the choices for voters -- who were watched while they cast their votes -- were either Saddam Hussein or Death To You And Your Entire Family. Since the 0.8% who cast their votes for the latter the first time apparently no longer existed on the voter rolls for the second election, Saddam's unanimous victory was a foregone conclusion.

The defense called Tariq Aziz to the stand once the histrionics ceased. It's unclear why Saddam's team wants to have Aziz speak about Dujail, and the AP does not include any of his testimony. They do report that Aziz is in poor health, and his family wants him released so that he can seek medical attention elsewhere. I'm sure they must have gotten that idea from the regime Aziz served and helped run. After all, one has to believe that the torturers and the rapists in Saddam's jails always allowed their victims to be released to seek medical attention during their "investigations".

UPDATE: The AP has updated the story at the same link, and Aziz has some problems getting his story straight. On one hand, he testified that the defendants had nothing to do with the Dujail atrocity, arguing that it fell to lower-level functionaries to handle the aftermath of the assassination attempt. On the other hand, he also testified that the regime had to strike back at the town for the insult to Saddam, and told the court the victims should be on trial now:

A former Iraqi foreign minister and deputy prime minister testified for the defense in Saddam Hussein's trial, saying the regime had to strike back with a crackdown on a Shiite town after a 1982 assassination attempt on the former Iraqi leader. ...

He turned the accusations around, saying members of the Shiite Dawa Party — which carried out the shooting attack on Saddam — should be put on trial. He pointed to Dawa leaders who, since Saddam's fall, have become leaders of Iraq's first elected governments: current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Speaking in a hoarse voice, he said the Dujail attack was "part of a series of attacks and assassination attempts by this group (Dawa), including against me." He said that in 1980, Dawa activists threw a grenade at him as he visited a Baghdad university, killing civilians around him.

"I'm a victim of a criminal act conducted by this party, which is in power right now. So put it on trial. Its leader was the prime minister and his deputy is the prime minister right now and they killed innocent Iraqis in 1980," he said.

In other words, Saddam's signature on 148 execution orders has no significance to the case, but the fact that the Dawas back then tried to assassinate Saddam means that anyone associated with the Dawas should be tried now. That makes sense -- under Saddam's notions of justice. One has to wonder why, if Aziz and Saddam believe that al-Maliki and al-Jafaari were responsible for the assassination attempts, did they execute 148 men, women, and children from Dujail instead?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 24, 2006 5:17 AM

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