Defiant Hussein Hears Charges in Court
Eleven Lieutenants Are Also Arraigned Before Iraqi Judge
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 2, 2004; Page A01
BAGHDAD, July 1 -- Former president Saddam Hussein was brought before an Iraqi judge on Thursday and was formally accused of ordering mass killings and other atrocities while he ruled this nation, but he refused to recognize the court and insisted he was still the leader of Iraq.
Hussein's 26-minute court appearance, similar to an arraignment in the United States, was the first step in a lengthy process aimed at putting him on trial for crimes against humanity, genocide and other offenses. He was followed by 11 of his top former deputies, who were accused of roles in many of the same atrocities.
Hussein's presence before the court was intended to be a brief procedural formality, a chance for the investigating judge to inform the former president of his status as a criminal defendant and of his rights to legal counsel. But Hussein stretched the proceeding into a 26-minute event replete with feisty exchanges with the judge, who sat behind a wooden desk just a few feet away.
Hussein questioned the judge's credentials. He insisted he deserved immunity because he had been acting in an official capacity. And he challenged the legitimacy of the special tribunal set up to judge him and his associates, saying that "everyone knows this is theater by [President] Bush, the criminal, in an attempt to win the election."
When he walked into the small courtroom, escorted by two burly Iraqi bailiffs, he appeared a diminished man. His meaty build had grown thinner even than at the time of his capture by U.S. forces near Tikrit on Dec. 13. The shaggy beard and unkempt mane he grew during eight months as a fugitive had been trimmed. Instead of the posh Italian suits he once wore, he was clad in off-the-rack slacks and a sport coat purchased by the U.S. military for his court appearance.
Although Hussein, 67, looked nervous and confused as he entered, his eyes darting warily at the judge and two dozen spectators in the room, his mood quickly shifted to one of exasperation and contempt, then to outright defiance and anger. After a few hesitant minutes at the outset, he peppered the judge with skeptical questions and recalcitrant answers. His sullen demeanor quickly gave way to finger-wagging, animated hand gestures, hectoring comments and contemplative stroking of his salt-and-pepper beard.
The 11 other defendants, who included former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, were far less combative than Hussein. Some of them remained visibly fearful throughout their brief appearances, invoking God on repeated occasions. All of them signed a document acknowledging they had been read their legal rights, something Hussein refused to do.
Like Hussein, many of them appeared far different than they had during their days in power. Ali Hassan Majeed, also known as Chemical Ali for allegedly giving the orders to use chemical weapons against Kurdish separatists in the late 1980s, used a walking stick to enter the courtroom. Aziz, known for his fiery debates on American television talk shows, sat with his shoulders hunched forward, his head down, his hands clasped. The once cleanshaven former presidential secretary, Abid Hamid Mahmud, showed up with a 10-inch-long beard.
[Two nearly simultaneous blasts reverberated across Baghdad just after 7:30 a.m. on Friday. One of the explosions was caused by an apparent car bomb adjacent to Firdaus Square, where jubilant Iraqis pulled down a statue of Hussein in April 2003, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.]
The proceedings were conducted on the grounds of one of Hussein's former palaces. The opulent collection of buildings, surrounded by an artificial lake near the Baghdad airport, is now a U.S. military base called Camp Victory. Hussein's appearance, which was videotaped but not broadcast live, gave Iraqis their first look at their former ruler since his capture by U.S. soldiers seven months ago.
It was not possible for journalists to obtain a full English translation of the proceeding on Thursday because the judge, whose name was not announced for security reasons, ordered that audio recordings of the proceedings not be released immediately. A small pool of journalists in the room took notes, but their accounts of the exchanges between Hussein and the judge had slight variations. Some television networks also broadcast short portions of the proceeding with sound from footage provided by a CNN camera in the courtroom.
There were fewer than 30 people in the chamber. Other than the journalists, there were a handful of Iraqis present, including a representative of the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, and the president of the tribunal, Salem Chalabi.
"It demonstrates that the accountability process is starting," Chalabi said of Thursday's proceedings. "For a long time people did not believe this, but it has happened. A psychological barrier has been broken."
Despite differences in some reports from the courtroom, there was no mistaking the strident attitude of the former president, who asserted that he had been "elected by the people" and asked the judge at one point, "What law formed this court?"
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein appears in a courtroom on a U.S. military bast at the site of one of his former palaces near Baghdad.
(Karen Ballard - AP Pool Photo)
_____Hussein in Court_____
Video: Saddam Hussein appeared in an Iraqi court for the first time since his capture.
Audio: Post's Scott Wilson in Baghdad
Q&A: Wilson Discussion Transcript
Charges Against Hussein|
at 9:28 AM
BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi judge told former President Saddam Hussein Thursday that he would face charges relating to seven crimes committed over three decades. The seven preliminary charges the deposed Iraqi leader faces are:
• invading Kuwait, 1990
• suppressing Kurdish and Shi'ite uprisings, 1991
• Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds, 1987-88
• gassing Kurdish villagers in Halabja, 1988
• killing political activists over 30 years
• killing religious figures, 1974
• killing thousands of the Kurdish Barzani clan, 1983