Defiant Hussein Hears Charges in Court
Hussein, who is being held in a U.S.-run detention facility at an undisclosed location, was brought to the court in an armored bus with blacked-out windows escorted by U.S. soldiers. But when he entered the courthouse, handcuffed to a chain around his waist, uniformed U.S. military personnel withdrew so Hussein would see only Iraqi guards. As he was led to the courtroom, people inside could hear the clanking of his chains, which were removed only when he was outside the wooden door to the chamber.
The proceeding began with the judge asking the former president to state his name. "I am Saddam Hussein, president of the Republic of Iraq," he responded.
When the judge asked whether he was the former president of Iraq, Hussein insisted that he was the "present" and "current" president.
He then was asked a series of questions: Where was he born? Was he once the leader of the Baath Party? Was he once the leader of the armed forces?
He responded to some questions verbally and shook his head affirmatively to others. He also demanded that the judge introduce himself. The judge informed Hussein that he was the investigating judge for Iraq's special tribunal, set up to try cases of major crimes committed while Hussein was president.
"You are representing the occupying forces?" Hussein asked.
"No," responded the judge. "I'm an Iraqi representing Iraq." He went on to say he had been appointed as a judge "by a presidential decree under the former regime," meaning by Hussein himself, and was resuming his duties.
Hussein made his most defiant comments after the judge read a list of seven atrocities the former president is alleged to have ordered: the use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988; the killing of members of a prominent Kurdish family, the Barzani clan, in 1983; the murder of political party leaders over a 30-year period; the murder of religious leaders; a campaign of brutal attacks against Kurds in the 1980s; the violent suppression of Kurds and Shiites after the 1991 Persian Gulf War; and the event that prompted that war, Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. When the judge mentioned Kuwait, Hussein became agitated.
"I'm surprised you're charging me with this as an Iraqi, when everyone knows Kuwait is part of Iraq," Hussein told the judge, repeating an argument that his government used to justify the invasion. Hussein asserted later in the hearing that he was protecting the Iraqi people from Kuwaiti "dogs." He charged that oil-rich Kuwait had been turning Iraqi women into "10-dinar prostitutes" and that he had sought to "defend Iraqi honor" and revive Iraq's "historical rights" to Kuwait.
The judge cut him off, saying, "You are in a legal hearing and we will not allow you to speak in any way that is disrespectful to this court."
Later, when he was told that he could have a court-appointed lawyer if he could not afford one, Hussein scoffed. "According to the Americans," he said, "I have millions of dollars in Geneva, so I should be able to afford one."
At the end of the proceeding, after the judge had informed him of his rights, including the right to be represented by a lawyer and the right to remain silent, Hussein refused to sign a brief document indicating that he had been read his rights.
"Please allow me not to sign until the lawyers are present," he said. "Anyhow, when you take a procedure to bring me here again, present me all these papers with the presence of lawyers. Why would you have me behave in a manner that we might call it hasty later on?"
In one finger-wagging exchange, Hussein told the judge: "It doesn't really matter whether you convict me or not. That's not what's important. But what is important is that you remember that you're a judge. Don't mention anything about the occupying forces. This is not good. Judge in the name of people. This is the Iraqi way."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company