- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

BAGHDAD — A defiant Saddam Hussein stood before his judges yesterday and refused to state his name, dismissing the court created to try him for crimes against humanity as illegitimate.

Dressed in a white open-necked shirt and dark suit, Koran in hand, Saddam displayed all the disdain that he had as Iraq’s dictator, standing steady and keeping his voice even as he challenged the Kurdish judge.

“I won’t answer to this so-called ‘court,’” Saddam said.

“Who are you? What are you?” he demanded. “I retain my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq.”

During the three-hour hearing held inside the glistening white former Ba’ath Party headquarters, Saddam alternatively stood or sat, at times looking bored in the gated area where he was forced to stay.

Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, who had to wrest control of the proceedings from Saddam’s performance, finally read the charges of murder, torture and expulsions. If found guilty, he and seven co-defendants could face the death penalty.

“I am not guilty,” Saddam declared.

The other defendants also pleaded not guilty to the charges related to the 1982 massacre of 143 Shi’ites after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam.

The eight are being tried by a five-judge panel. They could face other charges and subsequent trials.

Saddam’s defense lawyers argued loudly that they needed more time to prepare their case, and the court was adjourned until Nov. 28.

Iraqis — even those who said they did not care what happened to Saddam — tuned in their radios and televisions to learn how the once-feared dictator would react to the trial.

“I have no hatred toward you, but out of … respect to the glorious Iraqi people, I refuse to answer the questions,” Saddam told the judge.

It was the kind of speech that once won him the admiration of many Iraqis, and security forces fear that his appearance could inspire his followers to rise up again.

“He sent a lot of messages,” warned Gen. Hayder al-Badri, who controls an area of 2 million people in Baghdad. “He acted like a president, [and some] Arabic press represented him as presidential.

“They gave him a chance today to come back and talk to his people,” said the general, who spends his days fighting insurgents and terrorists on the streets of the capital. “A lot of people now will be willing to fight.”

At one point, a prosecutor waved an ink-stained finger in the air, presumably to make the point that democracy had triumphed over tyranny.

Fingers of voters in Saturday’s constitutional referendum were dipped in ink to prevent people from voting more than once.

The televised court appearance was broadcast with a 30-minute delay — part of the elaborate security procedures surrounding the trial.

During a break, Saddam rose to leave the three-row pen where he was seated and was immediately joined by escort guards who tried to take hold of his arms.

Reporters inside the courtroom said that when the cameras were not running, Saddam pushed off the guards, and — as during his 30-year rule — he got his way and walked out of the room.

Relatives of those who were brutally tortured and killed by Saddam rejoiced at seeing the man behind so many deaths finally having to answer to his crimes.

“It is somewhat surreal to think about Saddam in the dock awaiting trial,” said Qubad Talabani, a Kurdish representative to the United States and son of the current Iraqi president.

Saddam is thought to have ordered the gassing deaths of thousands of Kurds in the north.

“We are close to giving the survivors of his crimes closure,” Mr. Talabani said.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose brother was killed and several cousins were tortured by Saddam, agreed that the trial would allow Iraqis to move on.

“Politically, yes, one can turn the page,” he said Monday night at his Baghdad residence, adding that all those with blood on their hands who worked with Saddam would be hunted down, just as the Nazis were.

“They must be traced and chased and brought to justice,” he said.

He also warned against allowing Saddam’s trial to drag on.

“Saddam’s trial is not a research project,” he said.

Critics, including Saddam’s defense lawyers, have argued that the Iraq Special Tribunal is not a legitimate setting because it was set up under U.S. control, although it was approved by Iraq’s elected National Assembly.

They also have argued that they needed more time and access to better establish their case. The almost six-week adjournment ordered by Judge Amin should give both sides more time to organize their cases.

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