TOPICS > Politics

Charging Saddam

July 1, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Iraqis and people around the world heard the voice of Saddam Hussein today for the first time since his capture in December.

TRANSLATOR: Saddam Hussein, the president of the republic of Iraq. Saddam Hussein, the president of the republic of Iraq.

KWAME HOLMAN: With no lawyer present, he questioned the jurisdiction of the court convened by Iraq’s interim government.

JUDGE (Translated): You also have to introduce yourself to me. Mr. Saddam, I am the judge of the central court of Iraq.

SADDAM HUSSEIN (translated): So that I have to know you are an investigative judge of the central court of Iraq. What resolution, what law formed this court?

JUDGE (Translated): This is an important point. I am a judge. You, as any other citizen, you have to answer to any accusation of any charge.

SADDAM HUSSEIN (translated): That’s true.

JUDGE (Translated): This is an arraignment, a charge. If it can be proven, then you will be convicted. If not, then everything is fine.

KWAME HOLMAN: Seven broad charges were read allowed by an Iraqi judge. They are: the killing of religious figures in 1974; gassing of Kurds in Halabja in 1988; killing members of a Kurdish clan in 1983; killing members of political parties; displacing Kurds in the mid 1980’s; suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991; and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. On that last charge, Hussein had this to say.

SADDAM HUSSEIN ( Translated ): The occupation of Kuwait, charge number seven, unfortunately… it’s unfortunate that this is coming out of an Iraqi, but I know the law is there: Law to charge Saddam Hussein because Kuwaitis said that Iraqis… because the Iraqi women would come to the street for ten dinars, and I defended the honor of the Iraqis, those animals… don’t use foul language and attack. This is a legal session. Yes, I bare responsibilities for everything. Anything outside of obscenity or outside of the norms of a legal session is not acceptable. Then forgive me. Allow me. The seventh charge was against Saddam Hussein as a president of the republic and the commander and chief of the army, and the army went to Kuwait.

KWAME HOLMAN: Hussein also refused to sign any papers until he consulted a lawyer. Hussein is expected to face more charges later. As the proceeding ended, Hussein said to guards who led him out, “Take it easy. I’m an old man.”

JIM LEHRER: Now, the view from Baghdad. Margaret Warner talked with a “Newsweek” reporter there earlier this evening.

MARGARET WARNER: Babak Dehghanpisheh, welcome. Thanks for joining us. First in legal terms, explain to us what was the purpose of today’s hearing.

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: Well, it’s a hearing that was similar to what an arraignment would be in the United States. It’s probably going to be the first step in a long process of bringing these 12 former regime members, particularly Saddam Hussein, to trial.

MARGARET WARNER: You’ve, I know, seen the whole hearing on TV, and you’ve also debriefed the few reporters who were allowed to be there. How did Saddam Hussein handle himself overall? I mean, he looked quite defiant in the excerpts we’ve seen. Was he that defiant throughout?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: I think that that is correct. I mean, the overall impression is that he was combative, he was defiant, but his behavior wasn’t consistent throughout, from the people that I talked to who did witness it firsthand. He sort of… when he first came in, he was nervous, confused, and sort of picked up speed as he went along, you know. Sort of about halfway through this 25-minute or so hearing, he started questioning the judge, questioning the proceedings and, you know, became more combative as the hearing progressed.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, as you said, he did challenge the judge. One of the points he challenged him on was under what authority this court is operating. What is the answer to that question, actually? I mean, who appointed this judge?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: Well, you know, the legal term would be that the independent Iraqi special tribunal is part of the Iraqi interim government. But in reality, if we take a step back, it was established by the CPA, by the coalition provisional authority, under a statute that was passed in December. So in actuality, it is a body that was established during the occupation, although it is currently being run by the interim government, by Iraqis.

MARGARET WARNER: And this judge, I gather, had been a judge in Iraq before?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: Yes. We’re not really allowed to talk too much about the judge’s background, but suffice it to say that from portions of the things that were shown, there are a lot of Iraqis that did recognize him from the footage.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Saddam Hussein also seemed to be suggesting that he should have some special status as the president of Iraq that the court wasn’t recognizing. What was that all about?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: He was trying to claim an exemption as the head of state. This was a point that he sort of went back and forth with the judge also, that he is still the president, and the judge had to correct the record and tell one of the court reporters to note him as the former president. And he came back again and said, “still current president,” so obviously he’s thought about this. He is trying to, maybe in a Milosevic way, question the whole legitimacy of the proceeding.

MARGARET WARNER: Was he also suggesting that he should enjoy some sort of immunity? There was some discussion about some law that had been passed, or that he had himself signed when he was president.

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: Correct. Basically, the way his tone and a few points that came up during this hearing, he’s really questioning all of it…

MARGARET WARNER: On one of the charges– it was on the invasion of Kuwait– he seemed particularly aggressive. At one point, he called the Kuwaitis “dogs.” Did it surprise you and other observers you’ve talked to that he would be the most defiant and challenging on that charge?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: I suppose it’s not too surprising. There are some ordinary Iraqis that do hold similar opinions, that do consider Kuwait to be still a part of Iraq and.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Saddam Hussein, as we know, said he wouldn’t even sign the charges because his lawyers weren’t present. Why didn’t he have lawyers present?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: Well, at this stage in the game, it’s not necessary. It’s not that type of a hearing where lawyers would be present. The charges formally were not being presented against him. Again, this was sort of an arraignment. Saddam does have a team of defense lawyers. One Jordanian lawyer has emerged as sort of the head of the team. You know, again, this is very early on in this process, and those figures will emerge more and more as the trial goes on.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, has he met with any of his lawyers yet, and if not, what are the procedures or what is set up for him to do so?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: To my knowledge, he has not. The ICRC I believe has carried some communication, letters or something, between this particular Jordanian lawyer and Saddam, but most of the actual appointment of the lawyer and the communication has taken place through Saddam’s family, his wife and daughters.

MARGARET WARNER: As you said, 11 other senior officials were also… heard their charges read today. As you and I are speaking, we’ve only seen a few excerpts from the Tariq Aziz one. Anything remarkable come out of any of those hearings?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: A couple of points to note, yes. Saddam’s half-brother was pretty combative in court. From what we’re told, when he was being seated by a couple of the correctional service guards who were sort of enforcing security there, he actually pulled his hands away, sort of pushed one of the guards and challenged him, and turned to the judge and said, “how dare you let him do this to me? This is disrespectful,” something along those lines. The other point that sort of stuck out was that Ali Hassan al-Majid, “Chemical Ali,” apparently he appeared as a very broken man, unrecognizable to some of the people in the court, very hunched over, very gray, very weak-looking. He came in sort of leaning on a stick, so he seemed really the worse for wear out of this experience.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, was all this televised in Iraq, and have you had any chance yet to gauge the reaction from the public?

BABAK DEHGHANPISHEH: It’s difficult to gauge the reaction overall, but a few sort of expected reactions. Some of the areas that were the regime’s support areas, such as one neighborhood here in Baghdad, there were people that saw the defiant Saddam as a very positive sign, and began chanting some of the old Saddam- era chants like, “our souls, our blood, we will support you, Saddam.” But for many, I think, many ordinary Iraqis who didn’t support Saddam, I think the first reaction is going to be shock again just to see him in this state, you know, whether defiant or not. Seeing him before a judge is something many of them probably never envisioned.

MARGARET WARNER: Babak Dehghanpisheh, thank you so much.