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Judge in Hussein's trial cuts off defense


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The judge trying Saddam Hussein for atrocities during his rule cut off defense witnesses yesterday and ordered final arguments in the case, despite objections by the former Iraqi leader's attorneys that they should be allowed to call more people to the stand.

"You've presented 62 witnesses. If that's not enough to present your case, then 100 won't work," said Chief Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel Rahman, waving off the defense arguments. "I've finished hearing witnesses."

The end of defense testimony prepared the way for prosecutors to offer closing arguments on Monday. Abdel Rahman scheduled closing arguments for the defense July 10.

Hussein and seven members of his former regime are being tried in the massacre of 148 people and the detention of hundreds of others, including women and children. The crackdown followed a failed assassination attempt in 1982 on the former ruler during a visit to the Shiite Muslim village of Dujail.

Abdel Rahman began the proceedings yesterday with a warning to the defense team.

"I want to tell the defense attorneys something. We are not going to listen endlessly to the witnesses. This is the last session. I suggest you make use of it. You have to choose between two options: rhetoric or witnesses."

Three former bodyguards for Hussein, who were hidden behind a curtain, offered strikingly similar testimony yesterday, saying that they never heard about the massacre. Each offered examples of the former president's mercy and generosity.

The witnesses described how the townspeople of Dujail cheered Hussein in 1982 as he gave a speech at a health clinic and how a woman with lamb's blood on her hand made red prints on his departing armored car, indicating that she had sacrificed the animal on the president's behalf.

The guards also described the assassination attempt on Hussein, which occurred as his convoy passed a school on one side of the road and an orchard on the other. The bodyguards returned fire, they said, but Hussein stopped them. One witness said Hussein feared hitting innocent people or "even an animal."

After the volley, Hussein returned to the clinic, climbed to the roof and spoke to the crowd again. Many people apologized vociferously for the attack, the witnesses said.

"Those people don't represent you," Hussein said of the would-be assassins, according to one witness. "You are a very kind, gentle people."

Hussein's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan, a witness for former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, riled the judge by waving at the defendants as he walked in.

"Greetings to the heroes," he said.

Abdel Rahman warned him not to make speeches, but as Hassan's testimony dragged on, the judge accused him of political grandstanding and calling the U.S. occupation into question, and ordered the court into closed session.

Absent from yesterday's proceedings was co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, Hussein's former intelligence chief, whom Abdel Rahman ejected the day before for "multiple violations." Ibrahim's lawyer argued yesterday that guards had manhandled his client on Monday. But the judge said Ibrahim grabbed the guard first and then feigned injury.

Two former members of Ibrahim's security detail testified yesterday behind a curtain. One said that Ibrahim once released 50 political prisoners as a show of mercy. Both witnesses denied that they ever saw any atrocities in Dujail or heard of any orders to destroy the village's orchards or detain or torture any of its residents.

Ramadan, the former vice president, then delivered a rambling speech proclaiming his innocence and declaring his life's mission to serve the Iraqi people.

"Your honor, I am innocent and I am not guilty of the things alleged against me," Ramadan said. "If I was assigned to drain or demolish Dujail, I would have done, and done it perfectly. But I didn't."

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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