BAGHDAD, Iraq – Looking nervous under cross-examination, a Saddam Hussein-era judge acknowledged Thursday that the 148 Shiites he sentenced to death in the 1980s were defended by only one court-appointed lawyer.
The judge insisted, though, that the suspects had confessed and received a “fair and just” 16-day trial.
Some of his comments could bolster the prosecution’s argument that the 1984 trial was only cursory, a key point in the case against the ousted Iraqi leader and seven former members of his regime over their crackdown on Shiites from the town of Dujail.
Saddam and the other defendants could face execution by hanging if convicted. Prosecutors are believed to be finished presenting their evidence.
A U.S. official close to the tribunal said its judges could deliver a verdict and sentence in June or July.
The tribunal is preparing to put Saddam and six other members of his regime on a second trial on genocide charges connected to the military’s Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s that killed an estimated 100,000 people.
In the current trial, Saddam and his co-defendants are accused of killing 148 Shiites in a crackdown that saw hundreds of people imprisoned – some of them allegedly tortured – after a 1982 assassination attempt against the then-Iraqi president in Dujail.
On Thursday, the defense asked that one of the co-defendants, Awad al-Bandar, who testified last month, give further explanation of the 1984 trial before the Revolutionary Court, where al-Bandar was the chief judge.
“I was keen to carry out justice, and I hoped that the defendants would be found not guilty,” he said, insisting the trial was “fair and just” and saying the Shiites had an opportunity to defend themselves.
Asked about how the court could have finished such a case in 16 days, al-Bandar said: “We were in a state of war,” referring to Iraq’s war with Iran in the 1980s.
“The Dujail issue is related to the war. They confessed (that they tried to kill Saddam) to overthrow the regime to allow the Iranian army to occupy Iraq.”
He acknowledged that only one lawyer was assigned for all 148, saying it was court policy. “One lawyer for the case,” he said.