December 9, 2005

Saddam’s trial witnesses faulty, says lawyer

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey
Clark, part of a team of lawyers defending Saddam Hussein
against charges of crimes against humanity, on Friday accused
witnesses in the trial of false testimony.

Clark said the prosecution was battling to present a
coherent case, with the nine witnesses who have testified so
far either speaking from behind a curtain to hide their
identities or reading from papers as if their testimony was

He also questioned the wisdom of combining their evidence
with their civil claims for compensation from the defendants.

"Some of the witnesses' testimony seemed entirely
fabricated and some seemed to be assisted, and those who
appeared all had paper in front of them," Clark, 77, who has
attended the trial since it resumed on November 28, told
Reuters in an interview.

"They were reading. Who do you know who wrote what? You
cannot tell whether it's something they saw or something they
heard or read in a newspaper," he said.

The trial was adjourned until December 21 on Wednesday
after a highly charged day in which Saddam refused to attend
the court after telling the judge the evening before to "go to

Clark, a controversial figure who has represented other
jailed former leaders in the past, including Serbia's Slobodan
Milosevic, said the inability of the defense to confront
witnesses was a serious flaw in Iraq's justice system.

Of the nine witnesses to testify so far, only two have
stood in open court. The others have not only been hidden
behind a high curtain but have also had their voices computer

"You have a right to confront your witness to see what he
is doing -- if someone is whispering in his ears or a text
under the table," Clark said.

Two defense lawyers were murdered in the days after the
trial began on October 19 and many witnesses are too scared to
appear, even with their identities concealed. Some of those who
have testified have been verbally threatened by the defendants.


Much of the testimony so far has been harrowing, with
witnesses describing detentions, torture, near starvation and
sexual assault at the hands of Saddam's intelligence services
following a failed attempt on the president's life in 1982.

But there have also been many inconsistencies in the
stories the witnesses have told, and the judge has repeatedly
warned some of them not to ramble, and to clarify their
thoughts. Several were barely teenagers when the events took

"This is one of the amazing things," said Clark. "How does
a 10 or 12-year-old remember details and names, and sits there
and recites 18 names after how many years now we are talking?
Going back to 1982 or 1980?" he said.

"That's ridiculous ... Somebody gave them those names."

Clark also assailed Iraq's legal system for letting
witnesses press claims for monetary compensation in a criminal
court, something that normally happens in a civil court in
U.S.-style, English-based legal systems.

All of the witnesses to appear so far are officially known
as complaining witnesses and at the end of their testimony the
judge asks them who they are complaining against and what
recompense they are seeking as part of their complaint.

Later, eyewitnesses and witnesses directly called by the
prosecution will be called, as will defense witnesses.

However, Clark said the court's reputation was being
tarnished by witnesses seeking monetary compensation, something
he said gave them an improper motive to testify.

"Here you are in a criminal case of historic importance in
which a fair trial and truth are essential to historic truth
and public justice ... and you get people asking for money.

"I think that corrupts the trial itself," he said.