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Saddam's hearing on grounds of former palace


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Saddam Hussein appears in court at the U.S. Army's Camp Victory.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein faced an Iraqi judge Thursday on the grounds of one of the sprawling presidential palaces he built in Baghdad.

The site is now the home to the U.S. Army's Camp Victory near Baghdad International Airport, and the U.S. military provided heavy security for the arraignment.

Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles surrounded the makeshift courtroom, according to military sources at the site of the trial.

The octagonal building's windows were tinted and reinforced with sandbags and steel bars.

There was also a contingency plan in place in case something went wrong and Saddam and other detainees arraigned Thursday needed to be evacuated.

The courtroom is in a small, one-story building adjacent to a blue-domed mosque on a man-made peninsula surrounded by water diverted from the Tigris River.

It also has been used for U.S. military hearings, including the Article 32 proceeding for Army Spc. Sabrina Harmon last week in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

The sandstone-colored building is covered with Islamic scripture. The verse "In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful" appears over the main entrance.

The U.S. military had the interior renovated, using local Iraqi contractors who installed marble floors, wooden engraved doors and antique Iraqi art.

At the request of the presiding Iraqi judge, no symbols of Iraqi sovereignty -- such as flags -- were present for the proceedings Thursday.

One remnant of Saddam's palace -- a rug estimated to be worth $40,000 -- covered the floor.

The small room is in the center of the building, with the judge's bench in the center of the room. Saddam and the other detainees sat on a wooden podium as each faced the judge.

Members of the media sat in two rows of chairs, normally used for a 12-panel jury, to the right of the judge's bench.

Before the proceedings, Saddam was held in an adjoining conference room designed to be a jury deliberation room.

The former dictator was brought to the building by a joint escort of Iraqi police, Iraqi correctional service personnel, and multinational troops.

This was in accordance with the memorandum of understanding between the multinational forces and the Iraqi government that gives legal custody of Saddam and 11 other high-level officials from his administration to the Iraqis and responsibility for their physical security to the multinational forces.


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