BAGHDAD, Apr 6: The former chief of Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Court told a judge today that it took him 16 days to condemn 148 Shi'ite Muslims to death two decades ago.
''The trial lasted 16 days beginning from the day it started to the day the verdicts were issued,'' said Awad al-Bandar, one of Saddam's seven co-accused in a trial on charges of crimes against humanity.
Saddam and his co-defendants are charged with the killings of 148 Shi'ite men and teenagers after an attempt on the former president's life in the town of Dujail in 1982.
The special tribunal heard prosecution assertions yesterday that Bandar's court sent young men below the legal execution age of 18 to their deaths. Identification cards of teenagers as young as 14 were exhibited.
When an argument erupted between Bandar and chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi over the identification card of a 15-year-old boy who was executed, the chief judge took the liberty of briefly cutting off the sound system.
Saddam Hussein, who could face a new trial for genocide against the Kurds as early as next month, was not in court today.
The only defendant was Bandar, a quiet but fierce looking man who wears a traditional long flowing robe and checkered headdress.
Bandar has consistently argued that the death sentences were justified because those who were executed had connections to Iraq's then war foe Iran and threatened the security of the country.
The 148 Shi'ites were accused of belonging to the outlawed Dawa party, the same organisation now headed by current Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Bandar said his court carefully examined evidence and always sought to spare the innocent.
''God as my witness, we were happy if someone was innocent and the Iraqi can go back to his family.'' Another prosecutor stood up and showed a document he said showed that 46 people died under interrogation before reaching Bandar's chamber.
''The court was legal and I practised my role. The defendants confessed and I set a sentence that pleases God,'' said Bandar.
Asked whether he thought the process of sentencing the 148 people to death was hasty, Bandar replied: ''Would you sentence them one by one? That's why we read out the sentence for all of them in one go.'' The court has adjourned until Wednesday April 12.