Defiant Saddam Pleads Not Guilty to Killings Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is facing multiple charges of crimes against humanity in a trial that began Wednesday in Baghdad. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, related to killings in the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982. The trial was adjourned until late November.
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Defiant Saddam Pleads Not Guilty to Killings

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Defiant Saddam Pleads Not Guilty to Killings

Defiant Saddam Pleads Not Guilty to Killings

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

To the amazement of many Iraqis, Saddam Hussein appeared in a Baghdad courthouse today. He and seven members of his former regime were there, facing charges surrounding the collective punishment of the citizens of Dujail. The town was the scene of a failed attempt to assassinate the Iraqi dictator 23 years ago. In court today, Saddam was defiant, and the proceedings were quickly adjourned for 40 days. NPR's Anne Garrels reports.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

From the start, Saddam Hussein was testy. When asked his name, he refused to answer, throwing the question back at the chief judge.

(Soundbite of courtroom proceeding)

Former President SADDAM HUSSEIN (Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: `Who are you, and who do you represent?' he demanded. Asked his name again, Saddam shot back, `You know me.'

(Soundbite of courtroom proceeding)

Mr. HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: `You are an Iraqi,' he said. `You know who I am.'

(Soundbite of courtroom proceeding)

Mr. HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Saddam said he would not answer to this so-called court, declaring, `I retain my constitutional rights as the president of Iraq.' Dressed in a dark suit with an open shirt, the former dictator held up a Koran and began to address the Iraqi people, as he used to, but the judge stopped him. The chief judge is a Kurd, a fact unlikely to escape Saddam, whose regime notoriously oppressed the Kurdish minority.

Saddam and his seven co-defendants were seated in three rows of chairs within white metal barriers in front of the chief judge, the only one of the five judges who dared to be seen on television and identified by name because of threats. Behind his head were bronze scales of justice. Courtroom observers and a limited number of journalists sat in the back behind a bulletproof screen.

Saddam was brought to the Green Zone at about 2:30 in the morning from his cell and left to cool his heels. He was clearly angry. He wrenched his arms away from guards who ushered him in and out of the courtroom. But once he had denounced the trial and declared it the product of American aggression, he listened to the proceedings carefully. The judge assured the defendants of a fair trial, informed them of their rights and made sure each had legal representation.

(Soundbite of courtroom proceeding)

Mr. RIZGAR MOHAMMED AMIN (Judge): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: The prosecutor read out the charges, which included murder, torture and the forced expulsion of townspeople, saying the crimes could carry the death penalty. But when he expanded on Saddam's alleged crimes against the Iraqi people in general, the defense teams broke in.

(Soundbite of courtroom proceeding)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: They accused the prosecutor of going too far. `This trial is about Dujail and only Dujail,' they objected. The judge concurred. Saddam smiled. When asked how he would plead, he said, `Not guilty.'

After three hours and a request for a three-month recess by defense attorneys, the chief judge adjourned the trial until November 28th. Later, the judge said the main reason for the adjournment was that several of the witnesses had been too frightened to show up and testify.

(Soundbite of television broadcast)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

GARRELS: Instead of the trial this morning, Iraqis glued to their TVs heard anti-Saddam songs. This historic trial was delayed for several hours because of technical reasons. The tribunal had failed to provide for any sort of broadcast until just a few days ago, and the results were a disaster. The proceedings were barely audible for those anxious to hear every word.

Fariel Wadiya(ph), a Baghdad housewife who had once been tortured by the secret police, grudgingly admired Saddam's strength today. But she was shocked the court had allowed him to interject and interrupt.

Ms. FARIEL WADIYA (Baghdad): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Again and again, she accused the judge of defending Saddam. Whatever the concerns of international human rights organizations, the general impression in Baghdad today was that the trial, so far, was fair.

Mr. FAYEZ MOHAMMED(ph) (Businessman): (Foreign language spoken)

GARRELS: Fayez Mohammed, a 35-year-old businessman, said he did not expect the trial to be this fair, though he acknowledged it's still early days. He, too, was astonished at how composed Saddam seemed, as if he feared nothing. Fayez hopes he will be executed.

But there were others who said there were more important things on their minds today than the trial, like security and feeding their families. With the trial under way, nine militants barged into a factory south of Baghdad and forced the Shiites there to identify themselves. The gunmen then shot the six who came forward in front of their co-workers. There were attacks on several police checkpoints around the country and the assassination of yet another senior official. Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

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