KUWAIT CITY--Kuwait's martial-law courts began trials yesterday of accused collaborators with the Iraqis, sending six people to jail, including an Iraqi whose only known crime was wearing a Saddam Hussein T-shirt.
Defense attorneys, many of them appointed on the spot, complained that the process was unfair because much of the evidence against the defendants was not made public. They also charged that confessions had been extracted under torture.
One of the lawyers complained that the accused were not able to confront their accusers.
"In my 10 years as a lawyer, I have never heard of ghost witnesses," said attorney Najeeb Al-Wuqayan, who was educated at the University of San Diego. "You say you have witnesses, then let's call them and let's examine them." Three civilian and two military judges presided. The defendants were kept in a metal cage on one side of the courtroom.
More serious cases that could result in the death penalty were not scheduled to start until tomorrow. Lawyers said more than 300 people, mostly foreigners, will eventually be brought to trial.
They are charged with aiding the Iraqis during their seven-month occupation that began with the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, prompting the Persian Gulf War, and ended in late February when allied forces liberated the emirate.
Some observers have suggested the trials are a way for Kuwait to clear its human-rights reputation, which has been blackened by repeated allegations of torture of suspected collaborators in custody.
In opening remarks, presiding Judge Mohammed Ben Naji defended the trials.
"This court, headed by non-partisan and fully independent judges, is the fundamental guarantee for fair trials," he said.
In addition to the five Iraqis and one Jordanian convicted yesterday, three Palestinians and an Egyptian were acquitted and the cases of 12 others were postponed.
One case postponed was that of an Iraqi woman, Jasmiyya Mohammed Salman, accused of denouncing a Kuwaiti resistance member living in her building.
Adnan Abdu Hassan Ali, an Iraqi, was convicted of wearing a Saddam Hussein T-shirt the day allied forces drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait. No other charges against him were made public. He told the tribunal the shirt was given to him at the Iraqi school he attended before the invasion and that he only wore it around the house.
"Wearing a T-shirt cannot be considered collaboration," attorney Al-Wuqayan told the judges. He complained that a sentence of 15 years was too severe for such an offense.
He said the case underscored the amount of evidence and charges the judges were keeping to themselves--suggesting his client might be accused of other undisclosed offenses.
Ten of the defendants did not appear. Defense lawyers said some out on bail evidently were afraid to come. One defendant said two others accused with him were still in the hospital being treated for injuries inflicted in torture sessions.
The judges read the charges and listened to the responses of the defendants for little over an hour before retiring for nearly three hours to deliver their verdicts. The charges were rarely specific beyond helping the Iraqis.
Those convicted will be deported after serving their jail time.
Under martial law declared after the Gulf War, there is no higher court of appeal. But Crown Prince Saad Abdullah Al-Sabah, the martial law governor, must review all sentences.
The trials attracted little public interest. The only ordinary courtroom spectators were two women whose sons were arrested in the early days of liberation and have not been seen or heard from since.