Global Policy Forum

Saddam Lawyer Says He Has Witnesses to Testify


Associated Press
January 17, 2005

Saddam Hussein's legal team claimed Sunday it has witnesses willing to testify that the fallen dictator's regime was not responsible for gassing thousands of Kurds in the northern Iraqi town of Halabja in 1988. The claim, made by Saddam's chief lawyer Ziad al-Khasawneh, relates to one of the main charges against Iraq's deposed president, who is in U.S. military custody along with 11 former lieutenants awaiting trial before a special Iraqi tribunal.

Saddam was arraigned in July on several counts, including gassing Kurds, killing rival politicians, invading Kuwait in 1990 and suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991. His defense team has not previously claimed to have witnesses to testify on his behalf. It has, however, said it has documents supporting its case that Iraq's army never possessed the chemicals used to kill about 5,000 people in the Kurdish city of Halabja on March 16, 1988.

Iraq's interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, meanwhile, said trials of Saddam and his top lieutenants could begin shortly after national elections, scheduled for Jan. 30. Some U.S. and Iraqi officials have said preparations for prosecuting the former regime's top officials will need months.

Speaking from Paris with the Arab satellite station Al-Arabiya, al-Yawer said that the independent judiciary will decide the sentences of the 12 defendants, including Saddam, held by the U.S. military at an undisclosed location in Iraq. Asked if any will be sentenced to death, he said "they will be tried. There is a judicial system and they will have the right to defend themselves ... We will respect what the judiciary rules. I believe that trials will begin directly after the elections. It will begin with regime officials then reach the top of the pyramid," he said. He said that of the 12 officials who will face trial, only one deserves to be set free - former Defense Minister Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad. Al-Yawer described Ahmad as a professional soldier who was not involved in killings like other former regime officials.

Witnesses "are ready and willing to appear before the Iraqi court to testify that the regime of President Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the chemical attack on the Kurdish population," al-Khasawneh claimed without identifying those willing to testify. "Those witnesses cannot be challenged in terms of the weight of their testimonies, their persons, positions and connection to the event." Al-Khasawneh also claimed the legal team had heard from unspecified "media" outlets that the Iraqi tribunal had dropped the Halabja charge against Saddam and his top lieutenants. But Salah Rashid, human rights minister in Iraq's northern Kurdistan, dismissed the claim.

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