Handcuffed in his former palace, Saddam defiant
He arrived handcuffed and in chains at a courtroom in a complex that was once one of his palaces. But although Saddam Hussein has been overthrown and captured, he had not lost his defiance.
"I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq," he told a hearing where he was read seven charges, according to pool reporters in the courtroom at Camp Victory, a sprawling U.S. base that was previously a lavish hunting estate with a man-made lake.
"This is all theater," Saddam said. "The real criminal is (U.S. President George W.) Bush."
CNN's Christiane Amanpour, one of a handful of pool journalists allowed into the courtroom, said Saddam looked "alternately downcast and combative."
He was thinner than he had appeared in U.S. footage taken just after he was captured hiding in a hole near his hometown of Tikrit in December, and the wild beard he sported when he was captured was now neatly trimmed. He had bags under his eyes.
Saddam refused to concede that the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was a crime, denouncing the Kuwaitis.
"They were trying to turn Iraqi women into prostitutes for just $10," he said. "How could you defend those dogs?"
The judge warned him not to use such language.
Saddam also refused to sign a statement acknowledging that he had been charged and read his rights. The hearing followed the end of his prisoner of war status and his transfer from U.S. to Iraqi legal custody on Wednesday.
Hearing the charge that he ordered the killing of thousands of Kurds in a poison gas attack at Halabja in 1988, Saddam seemed to imply he had nothing to do with it.
The courtroom is close to the palace in the middle of an artificial lake stocked with fish on the southwest fringe of Baghdad. Members of Saddam's inner circle used to go hunting in the grounds, and soldiers say Saddam's playboy son Uday used one of the palace buildings for his assignations.
The small sandstone-colored court building is next to a blue-domed mosque, and was formerly the imam's residence.
It has been used for several courts martial, and for last week's hearing for Specialist Sabrina Harman, one of the seven American soldiers charged with abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib jail -- where thousands of Iraqis were imprisoned and tortured under Saddam.
Told by the judge at the hearing that legal counsel would be provided for him if he needed it, Saddam said: "But everyone says, the Americans say, I have millions of dollars stashed away in Geneva. Why shouldn't I afford a lawyer?"