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Watching Hussein's courtroom mood swings

By Nic Robertson
CNN

Editor's note: In CNN.com's Behind the Scenes, CNN correspondents share their experiences while covering news. CNN chief international correspondent Nic Robertson has been attending the trial of Saddam Hussein. He shared observations gathered during Monday's dramatic courtroom proceedings.

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Robertson: The moods of the former Iraqi leader run from jovial to furious.

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Behind the Scenes
Saddam Hussein
Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- I'm sitting behind Saddam Hussein in court. His feet are tapping, his shoulders are hunched and his body language underscores his anger.

From only a short distance away, the toppled Iraqi president coldly watches witnesses testify about unspeakable torture under his regime. At times Hussein's rage forces him to his feet and a judge orders guards to silence him.

He's standing trial with seven other men accused in the alleged vengeance killings of 143 residents of a town where Hussein's enemies tried to gun him down.

What struck me during Monday's dramatic court proceedings were Hussein's extreme mood swings. (Full story)

During a brief court recess, I peered through a crack in the heavy tan drapes that cover the bulletproof glass between the journalists' area and the courtroom. I witnessed the man who was forced from power by a U.S.-led invasion joking with his attorneys.

The curtains had been left ajar and I was able to see Hussein laughing with his defense team, including Former Qatari Justice Minister Najib Nuaimi and Khalil al-Dulaimi. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Hussein's defense adviser, was also standing by, listening.

It seemed to be quite a lighthearted conversation. They seemed to be joking and quite relaxed.

But by the end of the proceedings, Hussein seemed to be in a furious mood -- literally throwing his papers on the ground -- which essentially is what brought the day's proceedings to an end.

During Hussein's tirades he often stands up, which gains the attention of the courtroom guards. At one point during one of the later outbursts, a court official and guards -- who are unarmed and wearing khaki pants and khaki T-shirts -- walked over to Hussein and actually put their hands on his shoulders and told him to sit down.

A very moving moment

Some of the more gripping courtroom moments occurred during testimony from a witness who was describing torture under Hussein's reign. A pall passed over our journalists' area as everyone -- especially the Iraqi reporters -- listened intently.

Here, for the first time in a courtroom, testimony was being given that was central to all the rumors of arrests and unspeakable torture at the hands of Iraqi officials for decades under the old regime.

These things were being spoken here in a courtroom with Saddam Hussein in attendance. And there he was being accused in court of crimes for the first time. I think for many Iraqi journalists it was a very moving moment.

The interesting thing about the way the courtroom is laid out is that Hussein is the closest defendant to the witness stand. At times today, I watched witnesses turn around and look directly at the former dictator.

Indeed, the first witness who testified against Hussein was still in the courtroom when the second witness came in. During the second witness's testimony, the first witness was standing at the back of the courtroom, and one could see he was wanting to jump back into the trial again, wanting to speak out. It was clear from the way he was looking at Hussein and the other defendants that there was a lot of anger and animosity there.

When Hussein first entered the courtroom this morning, he made a point of walking slowly and deliberately and greeting people around the chamber. All the other defendants stood up, along with the defense lawyers, to offer respect or to recognize him as the former president.

But when Hussein returned to the room after a recess, he was looking down. He seemed to be quite downcast and he just briefly lifted his eyes to look at the visitors' gallery, set high above the courtroom. Then he cast his eyes down again and kept on walking.

The trial went on for eight hours Monday -- longer than any of its previous days. At times the proceedings took a slower pace -- also taking a toll on the judges.

One of two judges, who for security reasons are not allowed to be shown on television, closed his eyes for a moment as if he was asleep. Suddenly he appeared to wake up with quite a start.

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