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.
"Enough," the chief judge, Amin, cut in. "We only want to write your identification."
Hussein kept reciting the verse. The judge interrupted again: "Mr. Saddam, we demand you give us your identification, your address."
"Who are you?" Hussein asked the judge. "What are you? I have to know. You were judges."
"I don't have hatred against any of you," he said, "but we have to speak to rights and respect the people's will in choosing me. I don't acknowledge this court with all respect to its figures. I stick to my constitutional rights as president of Iraq state. I don't acknowledge the side who authorizes you or the enemy because anything based on wrong is wrong."
As the chief prosecutor, Jaafar Mousawi, read the facts of the case, Hussein repeatedly interrupted, saying, "That's not true."
Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, who was one of the observers in the courtroom, said Hussein appeared uncomfortable throughout the proceeding. "This is new for Saddam," Rubaie said in an interview.
Hussein's attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, called the court "illegitimate and unconstitutional."
"It's created on false foundations, and while those who are in charge of it are trying to improve its image, we still contest the legitimacy of this court," he said after the hearing.
The other defendants are Barzan Ibrahim, Hussein's half brother and the head of Iraq's intelligence service until 2003; Taha Yassin Ramadan, Iraq's vice president until 2003; Awad Haman Bander, former chief of Hussein's Revolutionary Court, which sentenced many of the Dujail men to death; Abdullah Kadhim Ruweid, a senior Baath Party official in Dujail who is accused of rounding up the local residents after the assassination attempt; Mizher Abdullah Ruweid, his son; and two other senior Baath officials in Dujail, Ali Daeem Ali and Mohammed Azawi Ali.
If convicted, all of the defendants could face death by hanging.
Some of them were as combative as Hussein. When the judge called the name of Bander, he refused to respond. "My identification is my egal ," Bander said, referring to his tribal headdress. "You took my egal off. I lost my identification."
The judge asked, "Where is his egal? Go get the egal."
Hussein called out: " Afya! Afya! " which means "Good job! Good job!" in Arabic. When he was in power, Hussein often used the expression to signal that the recipient of his praise should receive 2 million Iraqi dinars for each "Afya!"
"You are free to wear your headdress," the judge said. A court worker brought egals for Bander and three other defendants who also requested them.
Hussain Shahristani, deputy speaker of the National Assembly, who observed the court proceedings, said afterward that Hussein deserved to be put to death. "He must be executed as many times as martyrs fell on the soil of Iraq and every woman raped in the Iraqi prisons," Shahristani told reporters. "This is the day all the Iraqis waited for, for a long time. Today they saw the tyrant and his henchman in the cage. The bloodshed didn't go in vain. It was a candle in the path of freedom and democracy which God blessed us with."
Government spokesman Laith Kubba, citing continuing violence in Iraq, said the country was "in such a mess" because of Hussein. "One man stole the will of 27 million people and stole the wealth and ultimately brought the country down with his misadventures," Kubba said at a news conference. "The root causes of the problems are actually with one single man."
Kubba said it was important for Iraqis to distinguish between "Saddam as an individual accused of many crimes and Saddam as the president of Iraq, a position he used to occupy."
"Saddam is a person now," he said.
Special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and K.I. Ibrahim in Baghdad and Naseer Nouri in Dujail contributed to this report.