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 » Inside the tribunal  |  Hussein's charges  |  Special Report

Amanpour: Hussein frail but outspoken

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Amanpour is among the journalists inside the courthouse covering Hussein's trial.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour is inside the Baghdad courthouse where the first trial of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity began Wednesday.

She described the visibly frail former Iraqi president's arrival in court as he attempted to launch into a defiant speech even before proceedings were under way.

"It transpired that Saddam Hussein was attempting to make some kind of speech or have some kind of discussion with the judge outside of what the judge had directly asked him," Amanpour said.

"We could hear the judge saying repeatedly: 'All we are asking ... tell us your name. We will hear the other things you have to say later.'

"Saddam Hussein kept trying to have his day in court, have his speech, but was eventually asked to sit down, which he did.

"He came into court walking, escorted by two guards who were in bulletproof vests. He was wearing a gray suit and a white shirt. His hair is black, as it's always been, his beard was black with significant gray.

"A good deal older and weaker and more frail than he did the last time I saw him come into court in the summer of 2004 when he came for his initial hearing.

'Defendants looked weak'

"His other co-defendants in this trial --the trial for the massacre of 143 Shiite men in the village of Dujail after an attempted ambush on his motorcade back in 1982 -- each came in wearing the traditional Arab dishdasha.

"They looked weak, one of them came in in handcuffs -- he was the only one -- and they were all escorted with two guards to their seats. They all looked fairly weak, fairly surprised to be there.

"Two of the defendants -- one being Saddam Hussein's half brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, and another being the former presiding judge of Saddam Hussein's revolutionary court system -- they both complained that the guards had removed their traditional head dresses.

"The judge agreed with them that it was not right, they had the right to wear whatever they wanted in court, as he said, anything that wasn't indecent. He called for the guards to bring the head dresses back and they all put them on their heads, apart from Saddam Hussein."

Amanpour described an obstinate Hussein, who failed to fully cooperate with proceedings, proclaiming himself still president of Iraq.

"When the judge asked him first to identify himself and describe his profession, he basically said that he did not recognize the jurisdiction of the court. He said, 'this was false, whatever is built on something false is itself false.'"

'I'm still the president'

He said: 'I'm still the president of Iraq.' He again, as he did back in July 2004, when he had his first hearing, he kept referring back to the Iraqi people, saying I cannot disrespect the will of the Iraqi people who made me president.

"The judge could not get his name or profession out of him, but then he, the judge read for the record, Saddam Hussein's name.

"He read his name and he said that he was the former president of Iraq, the former leader of the Revolutionary Command Council and the former head of the Iraqi armed forces.

"Saddam Hussein interrupted him several times and he said that 'no, I am the president of the Iraqi republic,' he said to the judge, 'you are saying just what you want. I did not say what you're saying,' and then he said, ' I am not a collaborator.'

"His main point of defense is that he does not recognize this tribunal. His lawyers have told us that they do not recognize it and that will be his main point of defense, that he is being tried essentially illegally.

"Nonetheless, the judge proceeded. He read out the charges against Saddam and the other seven defendants in connection with the massacre after an attempted ambush on his motorcade in Dujail in 1982.

"The charges are, broadly, killing and murder, forced expulsion, the imprisonment of people as well as torture and the failure to comply with international law.

"He then read from other parts of the Iraqi legal charter and said that the death penalty would go to anyone found guilty of killing intentionally.

"Saddam Hussein's lawyer is going to contend. He told us yesterday that he would ask for a three-month adjournment, and he will focus, he says on the fact that, he says, they have not had the correct time nor had the defense team experienced in the this kind of very highly sensitive case of international law.

Tight security

"There was quite a bit of back and forth between the judge and some of the other defendants, including Saddam's half-brother, his former vice president, mostly about procedure.

"Saddam Hussein is definitely being, if not outright defiant, just basically saying that he does not recognize this court."

Summing up after Hussein's trial was adjourned until November 28, Amanpour told of her own reaction to seeing the former Iraqi leader appear in the dock.

"It is shocking, I would say, to see walk into court ... stripped of all the accoutrements of power, of the platform of power, of the uniform of power and stripped of the fear that they used to inspire."

Earlier Amanpour described the tight security surrounding the trial taking place in an old Baath Party headquarters inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

"Journalists and other observers, including diplomats, government officials and human rights representatives, began gathering in the Green Zone about three hours ago.

"We were all told in no uncertain terms by the U.S. marshals who are in charge of security that today it's going to be easier to get into the White House.

"It is extremely tight security, we are not allowed to take anything into the courtroom, not even a pad, not even a pen. We have been provided with those. We can't take anything except one piece of identification and the clothes we are wearing."

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