BAGHDAD, Iraq – After nine months of testimony, the troubled trial of Saddam Hussein adjourned Thursday until mid-October, when the five judges are expected to render a verdict that could send the ousted president to the gallows.
The final hearing ended without Saddam in court but with two of his seven co-defendants proclaiming their innocence and slamming the tribunal for alleged bias. Chief Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman adjourned the trial until Oct. 16, when the verdicts are expected.
Saddam and the seven others have been on trial since Oct. 19 for their alleged roles in the killings of more than 148 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail as punishment for an assassination attempt against Saddam there in 1982.
The prosecution has asked for the death penalty for Saddam and two other defendants. Executions in Iraq are carried out by hanging, but Saddam has asked to die like a soldier before a firing squad and not by the gallows "like a common criminal."
Saddam is due to stand trial Aug. 21 in the bloody suppression of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.
On Thursday, court-appointed attorneys read final summations on behalf of former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Awad al-Bandar, the revolutionary court judge who sentenced the Dujail Shiites to death.
The attorneys argued the evidence failed to establish the defendants ordered the deaths and torture suffered by the people of Dujail in the crackdown — the same argument put forward by Saddam's court-appointed lawyer in his summation Wednesday.
Nevertheless, both Ramadan and al-Bandar lashed out at their substitute counsels, claiming they had been chosen by foreign advisers.
"I refuse these procedures and I will not present my own defense," Ramadan, once a top figure in Saddam's regime, told the chief judge. "The defense lawyer, with all due respect, may be 100 times better than my own lawyer. But I don't know his name."
Al-Bandar argued with the chief judge, who accused him of preventing his original lawyer from submitting his closing statement. Al-Bandar then announced he was leaving the courtroom, but Abdel-Rahman ordered two guards to restrain him.
"You were a judge yourself," Abdel-Rahman, a Kurd, said. "How can you behave like that? It's not a game, it's a court."
When al-Bandar objected to his court-appointed lawyer, Abdel-Rahman asked, "What kind of a judge were you?"
Al-Bandar snapped back: "I was the best."
The court-appointed counsel then presented a brief statement urging the court to take into consideration al-Bandar's age — he is in his 70s — saying "he served the country, achieving justice."
The original members of the defense team had boycotted the trial following last month's kidnap-slaying of a colleague, the third defense attorney killed.
The trial was also tarnished by the resignation of the original chief judge, who allowed Saddam and the others to deliver political speeches before television cameras in the court.
Shiite politicians complained of delays and argued Saddam and others should have been executed soon after the collapse of the regime in 2003. But many Sunnis believed Saddam was being punished by vengeful Americans and their Shiite and Kurdish allies.
All that raised concern among some human rights groups whether a fair trial was possible in the politically charged atmosphere of a country racked by an armed insurgency and terrorism.
Saddam and three other defendants began a hunger strike July 7 to protest the conduct of the trial and the lack of security for their lawyers. They ceased their protest after Saddam was hospitalized Sunday and fed through a tube.
Following his court-appointed lawyer's summation, Ramadan said he could produce "1,000 people from Dujail" to testify that "they never saw me there." He also complained 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."
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.
Along with Saddam, the prosecution has asked for the death penalty for Ramadan and Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother and the former intelligence chief.
Ramadan was the commander of the Popular Army, the militia of Saddam's Baath Party. His court-appointed lawyer said that even if the Popular Army were involved in the Dujail events, no evidence was presented to show Ramadan issued any orders.
Ramadan criticized the attorney for mentioning the Popular Army, insisting his role was primarily training and he had no direct control over the units.