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Hussein trial plays as drama for the world

Former dictator uncooperative, won't recognize court's authority
Saddam Hussein told the court he was not deposed, he is still president of Iraq.


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Saddam Hussein
Christiane Amanpour

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The televised trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants adjourned Wednesday after three-and-a-half hours, but that was long enough to impart the symbolism of the new Iraq and evoke strong images of the leaders of the fallen regime.

The proceedings took place in the Green Zone in central Baghdad, at the old headquarters of the Baath Party, the political movement that controlled Iraq for decades before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 ousted Hussein from power.

Octavia Nasr, CNN's senior editor for Arab affairs, said it was pure drama for the Arab world, which stretches from North Africa to southwestern Asia, and for a TV audience around the globe. (Watch strong reaction to trial -- 2:40)

"The people I've spoken with, the reaction we've been getting from the streets, is that this is like a film, like a movie, a drama. They're watching...." and are "very interested in the proceedings themselves."

Presiding judge Rizgar Amin, an ethnic Kurd, handled the proceedings in a methodical, workmanlike manner. His presence served as a reminder that Kurds in Iraq -- once a persecuted minority when the country was dominated by Sunni Arabs -- are an emerging power.

Jaafar Moussawi, the chief prosecuting attorney, outlined the charges connected to a murderous retaliation against scores of people in Dujail after a July 8, 1982, assassination attempt on Hussein. The ex-dictator is on trial along with seven of his loyalists, who are similarly charged.(Full story)

As he spoke, Moussawi's blackened index finger was an indication that he was one of millions who cast ballots in the weekend's constitutional referendum, part of the political process disdained by Hussein loyalists participating in the insurgency.

People who voted in the referendum had their fingers stained with ink to prevent them from returning to vote again. The ink-stained finger has become a symbol of emerging democracy in the Middle East.

Millions of people across the globe watched the proceedings, which were broadcast on a 30-minute tape delay and conducted in Arabic.

The trial stirred demonstrations earlier in the day in Iraq, some supporting Hussein, others asking that he be hanged.

What viewers saw had the feel of other war crimes proceedings, such as the post-WWII Nuremberg trials last century.

Prosecutors sat facing the judges' bench, and next to them was the defendants' dock, with three rows of seats for the eight defendants. On the other side of the defendants was a witness box and the defense table.

Hussein sat in the front row. Awad Kadhim al-Bandar, another defendant, was to his right.

Taha Yassin Ramadan, Mizher Ruwaid and Abdullah Ruwaid sat in the second row. Mohammed Ali, Ali Dayem Ali and Barzan Hassan were in the third row.

Hussein was bearded and wore a dark suit without a tie.

The former president seemed more demoralized and tired than he did in a court appearance last year. At the same time, he displayed a defiant, contentious demeanor, although he addressed the judge in fairly polite terms.

He insisted that he was still Iraq's rightful leader and did not recognize the court's authority.

The seven others -- whom Hussein greeted joyously in the room at one point -- didn't display the same bravado.

In fact, CNN's Christiane Amanpour said Hussein seemed to be "indicating many of them had changed, and they really had. You wouldn't recognize most of them from the way they used to look in full regime regalia.

It was tough to pull information from Hussein.

Asked by Amin to give his full name, Hussein refused. "You know me," he said at one point. "If you're an Iraqi, then you know."

"Mr. Saddam, we ask you only now to prove your full name, title and profession. Then you will be given a chance to talk," Amin said.

"Who are you and what are you?" Hussein asked. "I need to know."

"We are the criminal court in Iraq," Amin answered. "So please -- these issues have nothing to do with you, sir."

Hussein complained that he had been kept waiting for hours and was denied pen and paper.

"I don't harbor any hatred toward any of you," he said. "But holding onto the rights, and out of respect for the Iraqi people for choosing me ... I say I don't answer to this, what is called a court, with all due respect, and I reserve my constitutional right as the president of Iraq." (Watch Saddam Hussein enter plea -- 4:11)

Amin eventually told Hussein to be seated.

At least one other defendant also refused to give his name, saying, "I repeat what Mr. President Saddam Hussein said."

Later, when Amin identified him as the former president, Hussein snapped, "I said I'm the president of the republic of Iraq. I did not say deposed."

Scene in courtroom

During a recess, there was a hostile exchange between Hussein and his Iraqi guards.

A couple of guards tried to take his arms and walk him during a recess. He wrestled his arms away and glared.

"It wasn't noisy and it wasn't with much resistance, but he stared them down and walked out with them on either side rather than rather than them handling him," Amanpour reported.

Mohammed Ali, once a feared Baathist Party official in Dujail, stood up during pleas and sternly said: "Innocent, God willing."

Hussein's half-brother, Barzan Hassan, on the other hand, made a comment that could be taken as ingratiating.

When he was asked his plea, he stood up, raised his right hand and said: "Innocent Mr. Judge," the former head of the secret police during the Dujail executions speaking in a polite manner to the new order.

Awad Bandar, sitting next to Hussein and a former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court, stood up and said: "Innocent."

Hussein never stood up for judges as they entered the room or when he entered his plea.

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