[JURIST] Defense witnesses began testifying Tuesday in the trial of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], following Monday's reading of formal charges [JURIST report] against the deposed Iraqi leader and seven co-defendants for murder, torture, and the illegal arrests of 399 people in Dujail as part of a crackdown in the town after an assassination attempt on Hussein's life. Witnesses, who were unidentified and included some relatives of the defendants, testified while concealed behind a curtain. Hussein and four of the co-defendants were not in the courtroom on Tuesday during the witness testimony, but presiding Judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman [BBC profile] said that the presence of Hussein's lawyers ensured fairness in the proceedings.
After being formally charged yesterday, Hussein and his co-defendants refused to enter a plea and Hussein insisted that he remained the leader of Iraq and claimed the trial was illegal. Abdel-Rahman entered not guilty pleas on their behalf. Under Iraqi criminal law [summary, PDF; Iraqi Criminal Procedure Code, PDF], defendants are not formally charged until after the prosecution has presented its evidence; but once they are charged, the defendants have the burden of disproving the charges against them. AP has more.