BAGHDAD -- A former judge from Saddam Hussein's regime admitted yesterday to sentencing 148 Shi'ites to death in the 1980s, but maintained they received a fair trial and had confessed to trying to assassinate the former Iraqi leader.
Another codefendant also defended the crackdown against Shi'ites, saying it was a legal response to the assassination attempt.
Hussein and his half brother, former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim -- who did not appear yesterday -- are expected to testify in the next session tomorrow.
The former Iraqi leader and seven regime officials are charged with killing the 148 Shi'ites, as well as illegal imprisonment and torture of hundreds of others in the crackdown launched after Hussein's motorcade was fired on as it passed through the Shi'ite town of Dujail in 1982. They face possible execution if convicted.
Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former member of Hussein's inner ruling circle who is accused of helping direct the crackdown and organizing the razing of Dujail farmlands in retaliation, denied any role but challenged the court, calling it an illegitimate creation of the United States.
He said members of the Shi'ite opposition Dawa Party, which is supported by Iran, tried to kill Hussein and the 148 Shi'ites tried and sentenced to death in the crackdown ''spoke frankly about what they did."
His comments echoed those of Hussein in an earlier session. Last month, Hussein admitted in court that he ordered the 148 Shi'ites put on trial before his Revolutionary Court, but said it was his right to do so because they were suspected of trying to kill him.
Prosecutors are trying to show Hussein's regime sought to punish the town's civilian population. Hundreds of people were arrested -- including women and young children -- and detained for years.
They argue the Revolutionary Court trial was imaginary, with no chance of defense, and have produced documents showing 10 juveniles -- including some as young as 11 and 13 -- were among those sentenced to death.
The head of the Revolutionary Court, Awad al-Bandar, came under tough questioning yesterday from the chief judge, Raouf Abdel-Rahman, and the chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Moussawi, over the conduct of the 1984 trial.
Bandar acknowledged he sentenced the Shi'ites to death but said their trial was conducted ''in accordance with the law."
He said all confessed to their role in the attack and that they were given a two-week trial that they attended, with lawyers.
''How did you take the testimonies of 148 persons that quickly?" the judge asked him.
''We were at war with Iran, and they confessed that they did their act at orders coming from Iran," Bandar said.
Moussawi presented documents from the Mukhabarat intelligence agency at the time stating that some of the 148 died during interrogation before they could be executed. He repeatedly asked Bandar how all the defendants could have appeared before the Revolutionary Court if some had already died.
Bandar insisted all 148 were there, but finally threw up his hands, saying: ''Is it so strange and surprising that someone might die in interrogation?"
''This shows that the defendants themselves were not referred before the court, only their papers. And the death sentences were based solely on those papers," Moussawi argued.