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On The Scene

Amanpour: Saddam's 'bizarre rant'

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

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein appeared Thursday in a Baghdad court to hear preliminary charges against him for crimes during his rule.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who was in the courtroom, talked with CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien after the hearing.

AMANPOUR: Well, I've just raced back from the courtroom to this convention center, where we're going to get the video distributed. So let me tell you about what we just saw. We saw first of all Saddam Hussein coming from an armored bus -- explosive-proof, we were told -- a tan-colored bus, very heavily armored.

He was handcuffed; he had a chain around his waist. He was flanked by two Iraqi guards, and there were other guards standing on the stairs as he was coming down from the bus into the courthouse area. He walked in; he was not shackled by the feet.

And then from inside the court, I could hear the chains were being taken off from around his waist. And the handcuffs were being taken off. Everybody was electrified, such a state of anticipation, especially the Iraqis who were in the court.

He came in, quite dignified, quite quietly, with two burly guards, one on each side, and he was quite thin. His face was dark. He had big bags under his eyes. He still has a beard, although it's been cut and trimmed. It's black with white on the chin. He has his mustache still, but it's much more neat and tidy than you can imagine when he was pulled out of that hole December 13.

He sat down in the chair, where he faced a judge who was sitting at a table across from him. On the judge's table was a Koran wrapped in green. And then the judge started by asking him whether he understood what was going on. First he asked him, "What is your name?"

Twice Saddam Hussein said, "I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq."

He was asked his age, whether he understood what was going on. A little bit later he was read the actual charges. But that came after quite a bit of to-and-fro between Saddam and the judge.

Saddam started by asking, "What is this court? Who are you? Under whose jurisdiction do you fall? I am the president of Iraq." We're still waiting for the full translation of this because this all was in Arabic.

There was some concern that Saddam might use this as a political platform. That didn't really happen. He was downcast; he looked defeated at other times. He kept raising his hand and asking the judge, "Please, stop. Let me ask you a few questions." He said please a lot, which I'm sure is a change for him. He kept asking, "What are the charges? Why am I here?"

Eventually he was read a series of charges, seven in all. These charges are simply the preliminary charges under the arrest warrant that he was presented with. These are not the formal indictment. This is not what he will eventually be tried for under the jurisdiction of this Iraqi Special Tribunal.

These charges involved the intentional killing of religious figures back in 1974, gassing of the Kurds in the 1980s, killing a big Kurdish family in 1983, killing of political party members over the last 30 years, the "Anfal" campaign, the suppression in March 1991 of both the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings right after the first Gulf War, and of course, the invasion of Kuwait.

It was the notion of Kuwait that got him the most agitated. He was jabbing his finger and asking the judge, "How can you as an Iraqi accuse me of Kuwait? You know that this was not an invasion. How can it be an occupation? I was doing something for the good of Iraqis. Those dogs were trying to put the price of oil down and turn Iraqi women into prostitutes."

It was a bizarre rant, and the judge actually told him to stop. He said, "I remind you that kind of language is not permissible." So he stopped.

About the gassing of the Kurds, Saddam said, "Yes, you said I was president at that time. Yes, I heard about this in the media as well."

And then toward the end, he was asked whether he could afford counsel, whether he had any legal counsel, at which point, he looked around and with a sort of half smile said, "But everybody says, the Americans say I have millions of dollars stashed in Geneva. Why shouldn't I be able to afford a lawyer?"

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