They sat side by side in a metal pen, the former dictator and the chief judge of his secret court. Together, they faced charges that they were responsible for the deaths of 148 Shiite men and boys in 1982, killed in retaliation for a failed attempt on Saddam Hussein's life.

Hussein made his first official court appearance Wednesday with Awad Haman Bander, the former chief of his Revolutionary Court who sentenced most of the victims to death, according to the prosecutor of the Iraqi tribunal hearing the charges against the former government. The Revolutionary Court, which tried acts of treason, showed little mercy over the years. It was so feared that Iraqis dared not speak of it, even in private. Its verdicts were kept secret, adding to the terror it inflicted.

After the assassination attempt in Dujail, a town 35 miles north of Baghdad, Bander sentenced most of the men and boys to death, according to the prosecutor of the Iraqi tribunal hearing the crimes against the former government. For that reason, legal experts say, it was noteworthy that Bander appeared front and center Wednesday with Hussein as the legal inquiry into those deaths began.

"The placement was not a coincidence," said Michael P. Scharf, director of international law at Case Western Reserve law school in Ohio. "They put the Revolutionary Court on trial. It's really important to send a signal that even judges must be accountable. It's Nuremberg all over again."

Bander exchanged polite greetings with Hussein after the former president was seated in a black leather office chair, the last of eight defendants to be brought into the courtroom in the city's fortified Green Zone.

"Allah bil khair," Hussein said to Bander, a traditional Iraqi greeting that means "God brings good."

In "Judgment at Nuremberg," a movie directed by Stanley Kramer about an American court trying four Nazi judges for war crimes, U.S. Col. Tad Lawson, played by the actor Richard Widmark, makes an impassioned speech about the significance of putting the judges on trial:

"These men together are the embodiment of what passed for judgment during the Third Reich. The defendants served as judges during the period of the Third Reich. Therefore, you, your honors, judges on the bench, will be sitting as judges in the dock. And this is as it should be. For only a judge knows how much more a court is than a courtroom. It is a process and a spirit. It is the house of law."

The chief judge in the Hussein trial, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, was quoted by an Iraqi newspaper as saying, "When they brought in Saddam Hussen and the other convicts, I felt how vulnerable and weak they are."

"As I am a man of justice, my duty is to give whoever comes in front of me for trial . . . I have to give him a fair and just trial," Amin said.

Scharf, of Case Western, said he helped train Amin at a seminar for Iraqi judges last year in London. "He was calm," Scharf said of Amin. "He never lost his cool. He was the perfect choice. By the end, Saddam had gone from defiant to playing by the rules. His lawyer told him not to plead. It would acknowledge the legitimacy of the tribunal. But he pleaded not guilty."

In the court session Wednesday, Bander's attorney, Saadoun Janabi, spoke at least once, appearing on a delayed broadcast of the proceeding. Two days later, Janabi was found dead after men in police uniforms stormed his Baghdad office and kidnapped him, witnesses said.

The identities of the prosecutors and all but one of the judges on the five-member panel were concealed on the opening day of the trial for security reasons. No measures were extended to the defense lawyers of the eight accused men, the Associated Press reported. The Iraqi government said Friday that the defense had not asked for protection.

In a flower shop in central Baghdad on Saturday, people expressed mixed emotions at seeing their former leader on trial.

"No matter what he had done, he was our leader," said Bushra Younis, tying a bouquet of fake tiger lilies for a customer. "I am very sad. I feel sorry for him."

Aiham Adwar, another worker at the shop, said that Bander's court "was a special court. No one knew anything about it. I didn't know him. I had never seen him before."

The workers at the shop, all Christians, said they did not know whether Bander should be punished for his role in the killings of the Dujail villagers. After all, they said, invoking the defense used in the Nuremberg trials, Bander was simply applying the law of the land.

"When the Americans came here, they shot people who were trying to stop them," Adwar said. "They were applying the law. Why is this different?"

At a trendy eyewear shop down the street, Ani Yacoub said he had been thinking about the concept of justice since the trial, which recessed until Nov. 28.

"Many Iraqis feel something for Saddam," he said. "But we need a law. There's no law. We just want security."

Yacoub said he would support Hussein if the former leader returned to power. "It makes no difference to us," he said about the trial. "We want to live safely."

Special correspondent Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.

Saddam Hussein, right, and Awad Haman Bander, the former chief of the Revolutionary Court, listened to the presiding judge as their trial opened Wednesday.