Hussein: 'I Don't Acknowledge This Court'

By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 20, 2005

BAGHDAD, Oct. 19 -- A defiant Saddam Hussein, at times argumentative, at times jovial, lectured the chief judge Wednesday on the first day of his trial on charges of crimes against humanity, declaring that he remained president of Iraq and that the proceedings were enemy-inspired and had no legitimacy.

"Who are you? What are you?" he demanded, looking the judge in the eye. "I don't acknowledge this court."

After three often raucous hours, Hussein pleaded not guilty, then scuffled with guards who took hold of his arms to escort him from the courtroom set up in the former headquarters of his Baath Party in central Baghdad.

"I am the president of Iraq," Hussein told one of the men. "You can't grab me like that." Hussein got his way, walking from the room on his own.

Broadcast on live television, the proceedings enthralled Iraqis all over the country. Many cheered the sight of a man they view as a demon being brought to justice; those who maintain loyalty to Hussein as an assertive nationalist leader expressed dismay at his humiliation.

Meanwhile, violence across Iraq continued. Insurgents killed at least 26 people, including six who were lined up at a factory in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, and gunned down in front of their co-workers, the Associated Press reported, citing police sources. A roadside bomb killed three U.S. soldiers north of the capital, the military said.

The court recessed until Nov. 28 on the grounds that defense attorneys needed more time to prepare their cases for Hussein and seven co-defendants. The eight are charged in connection with the killings of more than 140 people and the arrests of more than 1,500 others in retaliation for an assassination attempt against Hussein in the town of Dujail on July 8, 1982.

The opening day provided a look at how the former Iraqi leader and his co-defendants refuse to accept their positions as accused criminals. The proceedings were unusually theatrical by Iraqi standards, with defense attorneys shouting at the judges and the defendants refusing to answer even simple questions about their names.

The five-judge panel overseeing the trial is headed by Rizgar Mohammed Amin, an ethnic Kurd from the northern city of Sulaymaniyah. Hussein's security forces killed large numbers of Kurds during his years in power.

The judges sat on a raised platform, with copper scales of justice on the wall behind them. The defendants faced them from chairs in a chest-high metal enclosure.

Hussein, who wore a dark suit with a white shirt open at the collar, appeared to have lost weight. He sported a trimmed salt-and-pepper beard.

Asked his name, he responded, "In the name of God," and then recited a verse from the Koran. "The evidence has amassed against you but it makes you feel stronger," Hussein said, quoting the Islamic holy book.

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