ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Saddam Hussein faced a new trial today. He and six co-defendants are accused of orchestrating the killings of tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds during the late 1980s. The campaign was known as Anfal and it was designed to depopulate a broad swath of land along Iraq's border with Iran. Prosecutors say the result was achieved with bombs, bullets and poison gas.
NPR's Corey Flintoff was at the trial in Baghdad. And Corey, it sounds like it was another confrontational day for Saddam Hussein in court.
COREY FLINTOFF reporting:
It was. He was combative as ever. He actually, he looks pretty healthy. He's thin and he's fit and he's obviously determined to make this trial into a platform so he can just assert the idea that he's the one who's the victim of injustice. The first thing this morning he refused to give the judge his name. He said, you know who I am. And when the judge asked his occupation he said, I'm the president of the Republic of Iraq and commander of its heroic armed forces.
BLOCK: Tell us a little bit more about the charges against Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants regarding the Anfal campaign against the Kurds.
FLINTOFF: Well, they're really accused of murder on a huge scale. I mean, just the scale of this is unbelievable. There were tens of thousands of murders, men, women and children. The allegations are that they were by the most inhumane methods, including spraying poison gas. And this trial is also seen as a way to show the Iraqi people that former officials really will be held accountable for crimes.
BLOCK: Now in Saddam Hussein's first trial, the trial where he's accused of crimes against the Shiites, that trial was criticized by human rights and legal groups for being badly run. Based on the first day of this trial, does it seem like anything's different with this one?
FLINTOFF: Well, things got off to a rocky start today. The presiding judge apparently got mixed up this morning and he ordered the first witness to be called before the opposing sides even gave their opposing arguments. Plus, he also had a hard time controlling Saddam Hussein, who's still a master at getting the floor.
BLOCK: Well, what have prosecutors said about how they hope to prove this campaign against the Kurds?
FLINTOFF: Well, the chief prosecutor in his opening remarks paid particular attention to the orders that Saddam gave to his cousin, Ali Hasan al-Majid. He's the man who's nicknamed Chemical Ali for his alleged use of poison gas. Ali's one of these six other defendants and all of them were top-ranking advisors and military officers. It really looks as though the prosecution will try to follow the chain of responsibility up through these defendants and then on to Saddam.
BLOCK: And any more signs of what the defense might be?
FLINTOFF: Well, defense lawyers seemed to suggest that part of the argument will be that Iraq was at war with Iran and that any casualties that occurred in Kurdistan were casualties of the war and not of an ethnic cleansing campaign. They attacked the authority of the court - they always do this - on at least four different grounds. They said among other things, that it couldn't be independent because it was created by order of the Coalition Provisional Authority. They said it didn't have the right to try crimes against humanity. Only an international court can do that. And in the end the chief judge decided all these issues right away. He ruled against the defense on every single argument.
BLOCK: Now Corey, the second trial of Saddam Hussein opens even though the first trial has not been decided yet by the judges.
FLINTOFF: Right, that's true. Actually, we don't expect a verdict until some time in October, and then we'll get both the verdict and the sentence at the same time, if there is a sentence.
BLOCK: Corey, thank you very much.
FLINTOFF: You're welcome, Melissa.
BLOCK: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff, who was at the opening of the second trial of Saddam Hussein today in Baghdad.
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