Hussein's lawyers oppose attempt to oust judge
"Your father was a deputy in my security agency!" Saddam Hussein, responding to tribunal judges order. (Photos by Erik De Castro/ AFP/ Getty Images)
BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein's lawyers stormed out of his genocide trial yesterday to protest a government attempt to sack the tribunal's chief judge, a move against the theoretically independent judiciary that has pitched the troubled trial into chaos.
The courtroom spiraled into bedlam when Hussein accused the acting chief judge, Mohammed Orabi Majeed al-Khalefa, of infringing on his legal rights and the judge then ordered his removal from the court. The other co-defendants asked the judge to throw them out of court, as well, and refused to accept their new court-appointed attorneys.
The source of the legal mayhem was a vote by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet on Tuesday to fire the chief judge, Abdullah al-Amiri, after he declared last week that Hussein was ``not a dictator."
The judge's comments spurred calls for his removal.
But human rights groups and international legal observers said the executive branch's meddling in the trial would undermine the judiciary and send a chilling message to the remaining judges that they must toe the politically correct line.
``This is Judicial Ethics 101: You don't remove a judge just because you don't like what he says," said Nehal Bhuta, a lawyer with the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, which is a close observer of the tribunal. ``This suggests to me that the government of Nouri al-Maliki doesn't have a basic grasp of the independence of the judiciary."
Amiri, who will remain chief justice until Iraq's presidency council confirms his reassignment, voluntarily chose not to come to court Wednesday, according to US and Iraqi officials. An alternate judge was added to the five-member panel, which did not address the issue at the start of the court session.
But Wadood Fawozi, an attorney representing Hussein, presented a request, signed by all the defense lawyers, asking to withdraw from the case. The judge granted the motion.
``The government is interfering in this trial and impacting its credibility," he said. ``We cannot continue with our work fairly."
When Hussein objected to the new attorney appointed to represent him, he jumped up and began pointing at the judge. The judge, who asked Hussein to sit down at least 10 times, finally decided to throw the former dictator out of the court room. ``Take him out! Take him out!" the judge shouted.
Hussein pointed at the judge and said: ``Your father was a deputy in my security agency!"
The judge grew even angrier and began gesticulating with both hands. ``I challenge you in front of the public -- " he said, then stopped in mid-sentence.
``Take him out! Take him out!" the judge quickly shouted again, as security guards escorted Hussein out of the courtroom.