From behind a teak bench, five judges began trying the first of 300 people accused of collaborating with Iraqi occupiers. Not a witness was called, and many defense attorneys were assigned on the spot.
Defense attorneys complained that allegedly incriminating evidence was not made public, that defendants were denied the right to face their accusers - and that confessions had been extracted from some of the accused through torture.Six men were convicted Sunday as the martial law court opened the trials - one sentenced to 15 years in prison after being accused of wearing a Saddam Hussein T-shirt. It was not clear if the man was suspected of other offenses.
"In my 10 years as a lawyer, I have never heard of ghost witnesses," said one of the defense attorneys, 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."
The panel of three civilian and two military judges asked Mona al-Rais to defend a man minutes after she stepped into the courtroom to watch the proceedings.
"I had no idea about the case," she said.
The presiding judge opened the proceedings with the vow that they would be fair: "This court, headed by non-partisan and fully independent judges, is the fundamental guarantee for fair trials," said Mohammed Ben Naji.
The Western governments that helped liberate Kuwait and are encouraging it to move toward democracy have shown considerable concern over the postwar administration of justice in the emirate.
The trials being held in the country's opulent Palace of Justice were being closely scrutinized by the U.S. and British embassies, which had representatives observe the trials.
Since Iraqi forces were driven out of Kuwait in late February, allegations have repeatedly surfaced of Kuwaitis torturing and sometimes killing people suspected of collaboration during the seven-month occupation.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups say hundreds of Palestinians and other foreign residents have been arbitrarily detained and beaten in revenge attacks by vigilante groups and security forces.
"People are scared of the actions take by the army and the lack of justice that is being served," Defense Attorney Emad al-Saif said in court.
During Sunday's proceedings, defendants were kept in a metal cage on one side of the courtroom, with no contact with the lawyers called on to defend them.
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.
Lawyers wandered in and out, some making it clear they had little sympathy for the defendants.
None waited around to hear the verdicts.
Under the martial law declared after the Persian Gulf war, there is no higher court of appeal. But Crown Prince Saad Abdullah al-Sabah, the martial law governor, must review all sentences.
Lawyers said more than 300 people, mostly foreigners, will eventually be brought to trial. More serious cases that could result in the death penalty were scheduled to start on Tuesday.
In addition to the five Iraqis and one Jordanian convicted on Sunday, three Palestinians and an Egyptian were acquitted and the cases of 12 other defendants were postponed.
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," al-Wuqayan, who represented the man before the court, told the judges.
He said the 15-year sentence was too severe based upon the stated offense for which his client was convicted.