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Amanpour: Saddam story among career's top 10

CNN's Christiane Amanpour
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Saddam appears in court to hear charges against him.
Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein appeared in court Thursday to learn that he is accused of genocide and other crimes against humanity. The hearing was only about half an hour, but for me it was almost three weeks in the making.

The room was very small. I can't guess the dimensions, but it was a tiny courtroom on a U.S. military base. There were only a handful of journalists in the cramped quarters, and I was among the exclusive few -- one pool reporter, me and one other journalist. There were just a few cameras there from Arab television stations.

I didn't know that I would have such an exclusive position in this court, but I had been working this story very aggressively for the last three weeks. I'd broken several pieces of news about the process -- when he was going to be transferred and what it was going to be like.

I'd had good contacts on the Iraqi legal side. And I did the old-fashioned 'work my sources,' and that's how I got in. I was invited by the Iraqi side to watch this so I was not a part of the pool.

I was very pleased and proud and fortunate that I had managed to score a pretty significant journalistic coup.

It was among the top 10 stories of my career. I had never seen Saddam before. I had never interviewed him. I've never been in his presence before. This was the first time, and I sat about 10 to 12 feet away from him.

I would say he was a shadow of his former presidential self. He was thin. He had lost, we're told, 12 pounds. He had a beard and a mustache, whereas when he was president, he just had a mustache. His skin was very dark, and he had bags under his eyes.

He was looking old and tired. He did not shuffle, but he walked very slowly after the guards brought him in. He wasn't wearing prison garb. Instead, Saddam wore a gray suit jacket, brown trousers -- which were kept up with a belt -- and black polished shoes.

This was a big story because it was Saddam Hussein -- a man who has been so demonized and the target of the United States in two wars. And there he was, this very diminished figure, a shadow.

This man had been omnipotent, a dictator. In the past, he'd dealt very harshly with so many people for so long. And today he was at the mercy of an Iraqi judge. It was a very interesting dynamic.

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