Saddam trial may be entering final session

(AP) - Saddam Hussein's trial resumed Thursday for what was expected to be the final session before the verdict, with court-appointed attorneys ready to deliver final summations for two of the major defendants.

Saddam was not in court since his summation was presented Wednesday by a court-appointed attorney because the defense team has boycotted the trial since last month to protest the killing of lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi. He was the third defense lawyer slain since the trial began in October, reports Trend.

The prosecution has asked for the death penalty for Saddam and two of the other seven defendants for their roles in the deaths of Shiites in a crackdown following a 1982 assassination attempt against the Iraqi ruler in Dujail.

The session opened with former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan saying he rejects his court-appointed lawyer. Chief Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman said he could present his own summation.

"I refuse these procedures and I will not present my own defense," Ramadan told the judge. "I do not know who this lawyer is, or his name."

Ramadan said he could produce "1,000 people from Dujail" to testify that "they never saw me there." He also complained that the government had done little to find the killers of the defense lawyers, adding that "if I left prison now, I could find the killers in five minutes."

In his summation, Ramadan's court-appointed lawyer said there was no evidence tying the former vice president to the events in Dujail.

"He had no role in the arrest of the people of Dujail ... There is no evidence of his involvement in the case," said the lawyer, whose identity was withheld for security reasons.

Ramadan was the commander of the Popular Army, established in the early 1970s as the militia of Saddam's Baath Party. The lawyer said that even if the Popular Army were involved in the Dujail events, no evidence had been presenting show that Ramadan issued any orders.

The judge accused the boycotting attorneys of taking money from their clients and not defending them.

"They're sitting abroad now generating fame by issuing political statements on television stations as if this case is a political one. This behavior will harm you, the defendants. This is a criminal case, not a political one," Abdel-Rahman said.

The other defendant due to present a summation was Anwar al-Bandar, who presided over the revolutionary court that sentenced Shiites in Dujail to death or imprisonment in the crackdown.

After the summations are complete, the five-judge panel will adjourn to consider a verdict. That could come as early as mid-August, but an American legal expert who has been advising the court said it was more likely in the fall.

Saddam is due to stand trial Aug. 21 in the bloody suppression of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.

Following Wednesday's session, Michael A. Newton, an associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University law school, praised the performance of Saddam's court-appointed lawyer, saying his argument "was solid and based on law."

"The (defense) attorney yesterday gave the best argument that could be made based on the evidence and the law and that is the essence of a fair trial," said Newton, who said he trained all the Iraqi High Tribunal judges and lawyers.

Speaking to reporters at the court Thursday before the beginning of the trial, Newton described the lawyers as "courageous" and said their roles ensured "the due process of a fair trial."

He criticized Saddam's original defense team for boycotting the proceedings, saying they "have an ethical duty to be in court and to be prepared to represent their clients and I believe they abandoned their ethical duty."

"They should be ashamed for abandoning their ethical duty to come to court and argue on behalf of their client."

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