BAGHDAD, Mar 13 (AFP): Three low-level members of Iraq's former ruling party, on trial with Saddam Hussein, Sunday denied involvement in a Shiite massacre, while the chief prosecutor called for any defendants found guilty to be promptly hanged.
Sunday marked the first time since Saddam and seven co-defendants went on trial in October that the accused were invited to testify as to their role in the killing of 148 Shiite villagers, rounded up in the village of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after Saddam escaped assassination there in 1982.
All defendants face a possible death penalty. Speaking on television just ahead of the hearing, chief prosecutor Jaafar Mussawi said execution need not await the outcome of future trials if guilt were proved in this court case.
"If the court passes a death sentence on any of the defendants in the Dujail case, the law is clear, the sentence must be carried out within 30 days following the appeal," Mussawi said.
The 15th hearing, held following an 11-day suspension, lasted just over five hours before the case was adjourned to Monday.
Three members of Saddam's Baath party from the village of Dujail -- including a father and son -- denied taking part in the alleged repression or the drafting of lists of people "hostile to the state" who were then arrested, tortured and executed.
Wearing traditional Arab dress, Mizher Abdullah Kadam al-Roweed, 54, his father, Abdullah al-Roweed, 80, and Ali Dayih Ali, 66, testified separately.
"I'm a simple citizen, I did nothing. Charges against me are false and those who made them just wanted to harm me," said the younger Roweed, who worked in the local telephone office.
Ali Dayeh Ali, who worked for the education ministry, denied being in Dujail on the day of the attack against Saddam or informing on any villagers.
"Only once, a month and a half after the assassination attempt, an official from the Baath party came to fetch my father, who was Mukhtar (local official) at the time, for him to go with him to make an arrest," Ali told the court.
"As he was old and sick, he was born in 1904, I went in his place and the Baath official arrested a child even though I did not approve," Ali said.
The elder Roweed, who is hard of hearing, said he was just a simple farmer.
"I wouldn't have dared touch anyone. How could I have arrested or denounced anyone? I'm from Dujail as my father and grandfather were. I'm a farmer and never did any harm in my life, not even to a cricket."
All the defence lawyers attended the hearing, including former US attorney general Ramsey Clark and former Qatari justice minister Nagib al-Nuami, while the defendants appeared one-by-one to answer questions from the chief judge Rauf Rasheed Abdel Rahman and from the chief prosecutor.
The defence team has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the court and called for the replacement of the chief judge on the grounds that he cannot be impartial because he is a Kurd from Halabja.