BAGHDAD, Iraq - The trial of Saddam Hussein for alleged crimes against humanity resumed in a heavily guarded courtroom Monday with the former Iraqi president angrily complaining about having to walk up four flights of stairs under foreign guard. A former U.S. attorney general sat with the defense team.
After a short session during which the first testimony was read into the record, Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin adjourned the trial until Dec. 5 to allow time to find replacements for two defense lawyers who were slain and another who fled the country after he was wounded.
Saddam and seven co-defendants are charged in the killings of more than 140 Shiite Muslims after an assassination attempt against the former president in the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982. Convictions could bring a sentence of death by hanging. The former leader pleaded innocent to charges of murder, torture, forced expulsions and illegal detentions at the opening session last month.
Earlier Monday, Judge Amin ordered all handcuffs and shackles removed from Saddam and the seven co-defendants before they entered the court. Mortar fire echoed through the center of the capital just before the session began.
Dressed in black trousers and a gray jacket, Saddam was the last of the eight to enter, walking with a swagger, appearing cheerful and greeting people with a traditional Arabic greeting "peace be upon the people of peace."
Once inside, Saddam had a brief but heated exchange with the chief judge, complaining that he had to walk up four flights of stairs in shackles and carrying a copy of the Muslim holy book Quran because the elevator wasn't working.
The judge said he would tell the police not to let that happen again. Saddam snapped: "You are the chief judge. I don't want you to tell them. I want you to order them. They are in our country. You have the sovereignty. You are Iraqi and they are foreigners and occupiers. They are invaders. You should order them."
Saddam complained that he was escorted up the stairs by "foreign guards" and that some of his papers had been taken.
"How can a defendant defend himself if his pen was taken. Saddam Hussein's pen and papers were taken. I don't mean a white paper. There are papers downstairs that include my remarks in which I express my opinion," he said.
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nueimi were seated with the defense team inside the heavily guarded room, along with Saddam's chief lawyer Khalil Dulaimi.
A moment of silence was observed in memory of two defense lawyers assassinated since the trial's opening, and defense attorneys were on hand for the session, despite threats to boycott the hearing to protest the government's alleged failure to protect them.
Afterward, the court played the videotaped testimony of former intelligence officer Wadah Ismael al-Sheik, who investigated the assassination attempt and who died of cancer soon after making the statement in a U.S.-controlled hospital last month.
Judge Amin read the official transcript as the tape played without sound. According to the transcript, al-Sheik, who appeared weak, frail and sat in a wheelchair, said about 400 people were detained after the assassination attempt, although he estimated only between seven and 12 gunmen took an active part in the ambush of Saddam's convoy.
"I don't know why so many people were arrested," al-Sheik said, adding that co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother and head of Iraqi intelligence at the time, "was the one directly giving the orders."
A day after the attempt, entire families were rounded up and taken to Abu Ghraib prison, he said. A year later they were moved to another detention center in southern Iraq.
Al-Sheik said he never spoke to Saddam about the affair and received no orders to torture the prisoners. But he noted that Saddam decorated intelligence officers who took part in the followup operations.
He also said co-defendant Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president, headed a committee that ordered orchards in the area - the base of the town's livelihood - to be destroyed. The orchards had been used to conceal the assailants, he said.
Several mortar blasts could be heard in central Baghdad, although it was unclear where they occurred. There were no immediate casualty reports.
Tight security surrounds the court proceedings. The precise starting time was not announced due to fear of attack by both Saddam's supporters and opponents.
Meanwhile, Iraqi police arrested eight Sunni Arabs for allegedly plotting to kill the judge who prepared the indictment of Saddam, authorities said Sunday.
The eight alleged plotters from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority were apprehended Saturday in the northern city of Kirkuk, police Col. Anwar Qadir said.
He said they were carrying written instructions from a former top Saddam deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, ordering them to kill investigating judge Raed Juhi, who prepared the case against Saddam and forwarded it to the trial court in July.
Al-Douri is the highest ranking member of the Saddam regime still at large and is believed to be at least the symbolic leader of Saddam loyalists fighting U.S. forces and Iraq's new government.
Insecurity from the predominantly Sunni insurgency has complicated efforts to put Saddam on trial and forced draconian measures. For example, names of four of the five trial judges have been kept secret and some of the 35 witnesses may testify behind curtains to protect them from reprisal.
Defense lawyers had threatened to boycott the proceedings after two of their colleagues were slain in two attacks following the opening session Oct. 19. However, lawyer Khamees al-Ubaidi told the AP on Sunday that the defense team would attend after an agreement with U.S. and Iraqi authorities on improving security for them.
On the eve of the hearing, Clark and al-Nueimi flew to the capital from Amman, Jordan, to lend weight to the defense team. Both have been advising Saddam's lawyers and support their call to have the trial moved out of Iraq because of the violence.
Clark and others say a fair trial is impossible in Iraq because of the insurgency and because, they argue, the country is effectively under foreign military occupation. U.S. and Iraqi officials insist the trial will conform to international standards.
Still, the trial has unleashed passions in an Iraqi society deeply divided in its judgment of Saddam and his rule.
Many of the Sunni Arab insurgent groups include Saddam loyalists, including members of the former ruling Baath party and veterans of both Saddam's personal militia and the Republican Guard.
The ousted leader, meanwhile, is vilified by Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and its Kurdish community, which were oppressed during his rule.
On Saturday, hundreds of supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in Baghdad to demand Saddam's execution.
Separately, the leader of the biggest Shiite party, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, accused the court of "weakness" for not having sentenced Saddam to death already. He also complained that media attention over allegations of torture by the Shiite-led security services had belittled Saddam's alleged crimes.