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Iraqi Ex-Judge Under Saddam Defends Shiite Death Sentences

By Robert F. Worth
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

A former judge in Saddam Hussein’s Revolutionary Court acknowledged Monday that he sentenced 148 Shiites to death in 1984, but said they had received a proper trial and had confessed to trying to assassinate Saddam at the instigation of Iran.

The former judge, Awad al-Bandar, is one of eight defendants, including Saddam, accused in connection with the mass tortures and executions after the assassination attempt in 1982. The first high-level defendants testified Monday. Saddam is expected to speak Tuesday.

The chief prosecutor and judge often seemed amazed at Bandar’s defense of his role in the trial of the 148 Shiites. Bandar said that the trial, in 1984, had taken two weeks, and that the dock in his courtroom had often been packed as the men moved in and out.

The prosecutor, Jafar Musawi, showed Bandar documents indicating that 46 of the 148 defendants had been “liquidated during interrogation” before the trial. Prosecutors have said the trial was a sham, but Bandar seemed not to understand. “Is it a strange thing that a defendant died during interrogation?” he said.

Musawi drove his point home shortly afterward, saying, “People were dying during interrogation, and the strange thing is that they were afterward being referred to the Revolutionary Court to get the death penalty.”

Bandar angrily denied that. But he invoked the war with Iran as a necessary context for his actions, saying that “we had an external enemy and an internal enemy,” and that the would-be assassins were members of the dissident Dawa Party, with links to Iran.

Saddam offered a similar self-defense two weeks ago when he admitted ordering the trial, though he stopped short of saying he had signed the execution order prosecutors have introduced as documentary evidence.

Several defendants have questioned the authenticity of those documents, or suggested that they were marred by errors. “The typist must have made a mistake,” Bandar said, when asked why the records of the Revolutionary Court show no mention of defense lawyers for the 148 Shiites who were executed.

Aside from Bandar, defendants who have given direct testimony so far this week have denied any role in the torture and executions carried out after the assassination attempt, in the Shiite village of Dujail. Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president in Saddam’s government, said he had no connection to the events in Dujail.

But Ramadan insisted on reading a lengthy written statement contending that he was tortured after his capture in August 2003. His captors included an American, he said, and they demanded to know where Saddam was. When he told them he did not know, they beat and kicked him for days, he said.

The other four defendants are local Baath Party officials who are accused of playing roles in the crackdown that followed the assassination attempt. Three testified Sunday, saying they were innocent of wrongdoing, and disavowing earlier signed statements given to investigators.