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Saddam defiant as judge questions him

- Michael Georgy

(Wednesday, June 15, 2005)

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"Saddam was questioned about the killings of dozens of men from the Shiite village of Dujail, where he survived an assassination attempt in July 1982."

Stroking his beard, Saddam Hussein appeared relaxed and confident as a judge questioned him about the killings of dozens of Shiite villagers, a case Iraq's government may believe could lead to a swift trial.

In a film released overnight by the Iraqi Special Tribunal that will try him on charges of crimes against humanity, the former Iraqi president was not audible but he seemed defiant, staring intensely at the judge. "Answer the question. Answer the question," said presiding judge Raad Jouhi, firmly enough for his lips to be read.

Iraqis may be preoccupied with suicide bombings, kidnappings and rampant crime, but Saddam's rare appearances stir emotions in a country where some of his Sunni Arab supporters are leading an insurgency that has killed thousands.

Wearing a dark jacket and tieless white shirt, the man accused of ordering the torture and killing of thousands of Iraqis and the burial of many in mass graves put his chin in his hand and listened calmly as the young magistrate spoke.

His hair and beard were longer than when he first appeared before a judge a year ago. His features were thinner than in his latter years in power, and the pouches under his eyes heavier. Saddam was questioned about the killings of dozens of men from the Shiite village of Dujail, where he survived an assassination attempt in July 1982.

The prosecution will allege that over 140 executions and other killings were carried out in reprisal for the attempt to shoot Saddam as his motorcade passed through the village north of Baghdad.

A spokesman for the elected government, dominated by Shiites and Kurds who suffered in the three decades of Saddam's Sunni Arab-dominated rule, said this month that it was interested in a swift trial and death sentence for Saddam, and that therefore it was not necessary to prepare cases on all the many charges of genocide and crimes against humanity he faces. Iraqi officials have suggested a trial could start in two months but the special tribunal has said no timetable has been set.

Four of Saddam's former aides were also questioned about their alleged role in the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Kurds, which included a chemical gas attack that killed 5000 people in the village of Halabja. Such officials are well known to Iraqis, who often saw them on television beside Saddam and never thought the most powerful people in their country could be tried.

On the film, this time with sound, they seemed less energetic than Saddam as the judge asked about their previous positions in the administration and then focused on their activities in the late 1980s, when Kurds say Iraqi forces and intelligence agents killed thousands and razed villages.

Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, secretary of the Revolutionary Command Council's northern affairs committee, appeared tired as he recalled his involvement in Kurdish territory. At one point, the camera focused on his hands as he pulled a piece of dead skin from his finger.

Saddam's cousin Barzan Abdel Ghafoor, former commander of the Special Republican Guard and number 11 on Washington's 55 most wanted list in Iraq, was questioned about his activities in 1991, the year a Shiite uprising in the wake of Saddam's Gulf War defeat was crushed by the Republican Guard.

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