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There was more drama today at the trial of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. For the first time, Hussein was cross-examined by prosecutors about his role in the killing of more than 140 Shiite villagers from the town of Dujail. Those killings took place after a failed assassination attempt on the Iraqi leader in 1982.
NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad.
JAMIE TARABAY: The former Iraqi leader, dressed in a black suit and white shirt, took his time answering today's questions from the prosecution. He paused frequently and removed his glasses before dressing down his accusers. Saddam remained unruffled as prosecutors pulled out document after document, asking each time, is this your signature, did you sign this? He was asked how he could endorse the execution of more than 140 people from the Shiite village of Dujail only two days after they'd been referred to a revolutionary court.
SADDAM HUSSEIN: (Through translator) Should I call parliament to convene before I do that? The national assembly? These are the powers of the head of state.
TARABAY: Saddam said he signed the orders because evidence proved the accused were all involved in the attack on his life. Then the prosecutor asked if Saddam knew the ages of those who'd been executed.
Saddam dismissed ID cards introduced to show some of those executed were minors. These cards can be easily forged, he said. Prosecutors said at least two of those executed were only 12 years old. Saddam said he'd have his eyes gouged out before he'd sentence a minor to death.
Again, dramatics disrupted the trial. One of Saddam's defense lawyers, Bouchra Khalil from Lebanon, was physically removed from the courtroom after holding up pictures from the Abu Ghraib scandal showing Iraqi prisoners being abused by U.S. soldiers.
Saddam himself lectured the prosecutor and the chief judge, continuing to behave as though he is still Iraq's leader. Some Iraqis are impressed by his performance. Stationery shop owner Faza Muhammad (ph) said Saddam's behavior in court, standing up to the judge and arguing his points, make him popular with many Iraqis.
FAZA MUHAMMAD: (Through translator) The old speeches are back. The situation is critical. Many people wish he'd come back. It would be much better than it is now. We can't see things improving. Saddam's speeches show his strength and wisdom. He is still strong.
TARABAY: A strong leader is something Iraqis are still waiting for, nearly four months after parliamentary elections. The impasse in political talks on the national unity government has prompted a rift within the winning Shiite Alliance. Some Shiite leaders have now joined Sunni and Kurdish politicians in opposing the Shiite nominee for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. But Jaafari continues to insist he'll not withdraw his candidacy.
Meanwhile, in another Baghdad courtroom today, a panel of Iraqi judges dismissed charges against an Iraqi cameraman working for CBS news. Abdul Amir Hussein has been in U.S. custody for a year since being shot and arrested while filming the aftermath of a bombing in the northern city of Mosul. The U.S. military claimed Hussein knew about the bombing beforehand and was seen inciting and celebrating with other Iraqis. His American lawyer, Scott Horton, accused U.S. forces of misconduct.
SCOTT HORTON: Holding a journalist for one year because the journalist was on the scene of an incident that he had every right to be present and at cover? That's outrageous. And then not only that, but then fabricating totally bogus charges against him, which, you know, dissolved like fog under the sun when they were examined by the court and by the attorney general.
TARABAY: The U.S. military says the cameraman will be released tomorrow.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR news, Baghdad.