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Saddam Hussein defiant in court

Former dictator says he's 'innocent' in 1982 killings

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Saddam Hussein told the court he was not deposed, he is still president of Iraq.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein challenged the authority of the court and the Iraqi government Wednesday before pleading innocent on the first day of his first trial on charges of crimes against humanity.

Hussein and his seven co-defendants are charged in this trial with ordering the killings and torture of more than 140 Iraqis in Dujail in 1982 following an attempt to assassinate Hussein when he was visiting the town.

Throughout the three-and-a-half hour proceeding, Hussein maintained a combative demeanor and refused to stand when asked. (Watch Saddam Hussein enter plea -- 4:11)

When presiding judge Rizgar Amin asked for his full name, Hussein refused to give it. "You know me," Hussein said at one point. "If you're an Iraqi, then you know."

Hussein complained that he was kept waiting for hours and was denied pen and paper.

"I do not recognize the body that has authorized you and I don't recognize this aggression. I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect."

When Amin identified Hussein as the former president, Hussein snapped, "I said I'm the president of the republic of Iraq. I did not say deposed."

The presiding judge later adjourned the proceedings until November 28, granting a defense request for a delay. Hussein and the seven other defendancs answered "innocent" when the presiding judge, Rizgar Amin, asked for their pleas.

Defense wanted more time to prepare

Speaking to reporters later, Raed Juhi, chief investigative judge of the tribunal, said he granted the defense request to adjourn the trial amid concerns over case files.

"Some of them complained their copies they received were blank and were not clear," Juhi said. Second, he said, defense lawyers said they needed to gather witnesses.

Hussein's lead attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, told CNN he wanted a continuance of at least three months because the majority of the defense lawyers are not sufficiently experienced in international law and in cases of this magnitude.

He also said the defense team wasn't informed about the start of the trial until about three weeks ago -- which he said was in violation of the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

Many charges

Amin, an ethnic Kurd, had read out the charges, which include killing, forced expulsion, the imprisonment of people, torture and the failure to comply with international law.

Explaining that the death penalty applies to anyone found guilty of killing intentionally, Amin assured the defendants of their rights, saying they were equal before the court.

He said they were considered innocent until convicted by the court, and that every defendant had a right to a fair, honest and public trial; to know the details of the charges; and to be given enough time to prepare their defense and contact their lawyers.

Later, Jaafar Moussawi, chief prosecuting attorney, gave a lengthy elaboration on the charges involving the massacre 23 years ago.

Contentious exchange

During a recess, there was a contentious exchange between Hussein and his Iraqi guards.

A couple of guards tried to take his arms and walk him during a recess. He wrestled his arms away and glared at the guards.

At the end of a recess, as the judges entered the courtroom, everyone stood up except for Hussein.

Hussein also was seen talking jovially with defendants, comrades he probably hasn't seen for a long time. (Amanpour: Hussein frail but outspoken)

1982 massacre

The prosecution of Hussein was beginning with the lesser-known Dujail case in which more than 140 Iraqis were killed in 1982 in the Sunni-Shiite town, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Hussein and the seven other defendants are charged with ordering the killings and torture in Dujail after a Shiite group tried to kill Hussein. (See video on the case against Hussein -- 2:35)

Court officials are thought to have chosen to prosecute this case first because it is not as complex as the other charges brought against the former dictator.

Those charges involve the gassing to death of thousands of Kurds in 1988 in Halabja and the slaughter of thousands of Shiites during their uprising in 1991, after the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Kevin Flower, Octavia Nasr, Erin McLaughlin and Joyce Joseph contributed to this report.

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