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Saddam Hussein Appears in Court
Aired July 1, 2004 - 7:18 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take you right to Christiane Amanpour who is also following this proceeding for us.
Christiane, good morning.
What do you know about what's happened with Saddam Hussein and also the refusal to sign these documents?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This morning, just about 20 minutes ago, this hearing ended. It lasted about 30 minutes.
I was inside the court. I saw Saddam Hussein come into the courtroom flanked by two big Iraqi judges.
He looked very thin, he looked tired, he looked defeated. He sat down. The investigative judge who was sitting down waiting for him asked him first his name. Twice he said, "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq."
And then the judge asked him whether he understood the rights, he explained the process, asked whether he wanted counsel, whether he could afford counsel.
Saddam Hussein was ultimately downcast and combative. Occasionally, in a hoarse voice -- his voice is hoarse -- he jabbed his finger at the judge, he asked whose jurisdiction this was? He kept claiming to still be the president of Iraq and he asked, under whose jurisdiction did the judge and this court process fall.
He looked kind of confused. He was then read a total of seven charges against him. These are the preliminary charges under the preliminary arrest warrant. These are not the formal indictments.
He was charged with the invasion of Kuwait, the suppression in March of 1991 of the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings after the first Gulf War, of what's known as an ansal (ph) campaign against Kurds up in Kurdistan. He was charged with killing members of political parties over the last 30 years. He was charged with killing religious figures in 1974. He was charged with Halabja, the gassing of the Kurds back in the '80s.
He refused to recognize that he had invaded Kuwait. He kept saying, "How could you say that? I did that for the Iraqi people." He said, "I did that for the Iraqi people. How could you defend these dogs?" he said about the Kuwaitis. The judge reprimanded him, said "Don't use such words in a court. Let me remind you that you are in a court of law. Such language is not permitted."
He kept asking what was going on. At one point he looked around. He sort of had a half smile and he said, "This is all a theater. The real criminal is Bush. This is all about him trying to get his message across."
O'BRIEN: We can still hear you, Christiane. And what you're saying is riveting, which is why I'm not breaking in to ask you any questions.
Do you have more to describe for me what happened after he looked around and clearly seemed to be having some contentious moments in the courtroom?
AMANPOUR: They were ultimately contentious and simply questioning comments from him. Many times he kept saying please when he wanted to interrupt the judge or disagree with what the judge was saying. He kept using his hands in a gesture to get the judge to listen to him, to be allowed to speak.
At this arraignment, he was allowed to speak. It went on for about 30 minutes. We had been told that the judge would let it go for about 30 minutes and indeed then shut it off when the 30 minutes was up.
As far as the exchange between them, she said, "Have you finished?" And the judge said "Yes," and Saddam said "Hallah" (ph) the Arab word for it's finished.
And he stood up and he was led out of the courtroom.
He said about the Halabja charge, the gassing of the Kurds, "I have heard about it in the media as well. They say that it happened during the reign of President Saddam Hussein. I have been elected by the people of Iraq."
He kept insisting that he needed to be tried going through this process as president of Iraq. He said that he did not know what to make of this process. I told you that he said it was just a theater. He smiled, looked around. Looked, as I say, constantly a little defeated, but there were these moments of defiance.
He did refuse to sign the papers that confirmed that he had understood stood what is taking place, that he had been read his rights, that he had been told he could have a lawyer. He said that he would only do that with lawyers present.
There were no lawyers present at this hearing today.
When Saddam refused, the judge said, "All right, in the name of the court, I record that you've been read your rights and that you understand what has happened."
Again, I repeat, he then asked if this was finished, the judge said yes and he was taken out.
Saddam Hussein came to the court from the detention place that he was being held at. He was helicoptered here alone except for the guards and the American helicopter pilots. There were no other detainees with him.
He came in a first wave. He landed. He was put in a bullet- proof, an armored bus that we are told is explosion proof on the American base here and driven to the room used that is being used as a courtroom, that facility that's being used on this base as a courtroom.
He, I say, was dressed in civilian clothes. He wore a gray jacket, a starch white suit, brown trousers, polished black shoes and he still had a beard. It was trimmed. It was not the shaggy beard that we had seen when he was first brought out of that hole back in December.
His face looked thinner. It was dark. He had big bags under his eyes and he looked very much a shadow of his former presidential self.
He was handcuffed in front of his body. There was a chain that was around his waist as he was walked from the bus to the courtroom. There I could hear from sitting inside the court, I could hear the chains being undone and falling to the ground. I could hear the sounds of the chains as they were being taken off him.
His feet were not shackled, just his hands were cuffed in front of him. The cuffs were taken off before he came into the court.
He was brought in by two very big Iraqi guards with ICS written on their caps, Iraqi correctional service we understand. It was written in English on their caps.
Inside the court, he sat down. He faced some cameras, the pool cameras. There were just two reporters inside, who were independent, myself amongst them. There was a pool reporter.
There were members of the Iraqi government, the new Iraqi government, notably Mr. Mouwafak Al-Rabii, who held a national security portfolio, Salim Chalabi, who is the executive director of the special Iraqi tribunal that will eventually try the case when it is formally brought against him.
There were members of the Department of Justice, American lawyers who are assisting the Iraqis in this process. There were representatives from the prime minister and the deputy prime minister's office.
There was the judge, who sat quietly, pensively, reflectively, showed very little emotion, was firm. Dealt with the situation quite firmly, but without any rancor. Never raised his voice, even when Saddam Hussein was jabbing his finger at him and asking under whose jurisdiction was he brought before this court.
There were two court reporters also taking down the official records and the official minutes of this. The judge would turn to them and tell them what they should write down.
On the table, the judge had documents open before him and there was also a Koran wrapped in a green piece of cloth. And then the formalities began.
As I say, the first thing the judge asked Saddam Hussein was what was his name and twice he said, "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq."
Back to you.
COOPER: Christiane, you've described the judge's reaction, saying that he really didn't have much of a reaction. What about the reaction of others in the courtroom when Saddam Hussein finally walked in chained at the hands, not at the feet? What was the mood in the courtroom, what was your sense?
AMANPOUR: No, no. Please understand, he was not chained when he came into the courtroom. He was only chained coming from the bus to what they call the courthouse.
Before he came into the courtroom, those handcuffs were taken off. He was not there a criminal in the courtroom, merely an accused, and therefore he is free of any chains, handcuffs or shackles, and he listened to what the judge had to say.
The reaction from the people inside was one, as you can imagine, of electrified anticipation. This is the man, especially to the Iraqis, who had been the omnipotent, the dictator, the man who has brutalized half their own family, certainly their country, for so many years.
And as I say, he arrived in court looking a real shadow of his former self. You would not have believed that this was the man who we have seen so many times on the (inaudible) parading in military uniform, pinning medals on people's chests, defiantly talking about winning wars and fighting battles.
This was not that Saddam Hussein, but he still had some -- a little fight in him, a little vigor, when he was -- challenged the charges that were brought against him.
The most particular charge that he challenged was the notion that he invaded Kuwait. He kept saying this was rightfully part -- "belonged to us. How could you accuse me of doing what I did?" he said to the Iraqi people. "They were trying to bring the price of oil down."
They translated to me the following sentence: "They were trying to turn Iraqi women into prostitutes for just $10." And he said, "How could you defend those dogs," talking about the Kuwaitis. And the Iraqi judge said, "Please do not use that language in this court. I remind you that this is a court of law and that language will not be tolerated."
Several times Saddam Hussein raised his hand in the gesture of -- to interrupt what the judge was saying with his fist and his fingers (inaudible) shaking it at the judge and every time saying, please.
He seemed to be fairly respectable of the judge. There was no untoward or rude interruptions, it was always please and then he would put his point across.
We are still waiting for the full and formal translation of what happened there. These are the initial quick translations of some of the points that I got.
O'BRIEN: And we should mention, Christiane, we're also still awaiting the videotape of this court proceeding, it was not being shown live. But as soon as we get a tape of the proceeding, we're going to bring that, of course, to our viewers.
You mentioned that Saddam Hussein was advised of his right to counsel. There are reports, of course, that his wife has hired for him some 20 non-Iraqi lawyers. Why were none of those lawyers actually allow in the courtroom with him?
AMANPOUR: No. Because Saddam Hussein himself has never actually been asked whether he wants a lawyer and has never actually personally called for a lawyer, because up until now legally he didn't need one. He was a prisoner of war before.
Now he's been transferred to the legal custody of the Iraqi criminal system here under the jurisdiction of the special Iraqi tribunal. So those lawyers that have been hired or called upon by the family are not officially at this point recognized as his lawyers. He has to ask for one.
And we're told that under the statute of this special tribunal, that his lead lawyer, the lawyer of record must be an Iraqi, although international, foreign lawyers could be on the team. But that still hasn't happened.
At one point the judge told him that he had the right to legal counsel, that he had the right to a lawyer, if he couldn't afford one that one would be provided.
A quick translation of what he said in response to that was, he looked at the bench, he looked at all of us. (Inaudible) a half smile and he said, "The people say I have millions stashed away in Geneva. Of course I can afford a lawyer. Why shouldn't I afford a lawyer?"
O'BRIEN: Looks like we've lost Christiane. Her description was fascinating of what's happening inside that courtroom to Saddam Hussein. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com