Hussein appeared in court after boycotting the last two hearings to protest against the new chief judge. But his appearance was far from orderly. He entered shouting denunciations of the court and claiming he was being forced to attend against his will.
"Long live Iraq!" Hussein shouted. "Long live the Arab nation! Down with the agents [of occupation]! Down with [U.S. President George W.] Bush! Long live the nation! Long live the nation!"
It was Hussein's first appearance in court since he walked out in protest with his defense team on 29 January.
The former Iraqi leader and his seven codefendants looked far from happy to be back. "I was forced into the courtroom,” Hussein told the judge. “Exercise your right and sentence me in absentia."
Judge Exercises Control
Hussein and most of the other defendants boycotted the last meetings of the court on 1 and 2 February. They had said they would not return until Chief Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman was removed from his position.
But today Chief Judge Abd al-Rahman remained clearly in control even if the proceedings were raucous at times. The judge dismissed some of the defense lawyers before today’s session and appointed replacements, whom the defendants say they reject.
The defense team had claimed Chief Judge Abd al-Rahman is biased because of his personal history, which includes being jailed and tortured by the toppled Ba’athist regime.
The defense had also demanded the trial be relocated to another country for security reasons. Two defense lawyers have been killed in Iraq since the start of the trial in October.
Hussein's Half Brother Also Defiant
The stormy moments in today’s session included this outburst from Hussein's half brother and codefendant Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, who is a former intelligence chief.
"Long live Iraq!" al-Tikriti shouted. "Long live the Iraqi people!"”
Al-Tikriti, who screamed at the judge with his face red with anger, has said he has cancer and demanded he be released for treatment.
Unlike Hussein, who entered the court on his own, al-Tikriti had to be brought in by guards and briefly scuffled with them.
The Witness List
The court is trying Hussein and the seven other defendants for the killing of some 140 Shi'ite men and boys in reprisal for a failed assassination attempt against Hussein in the village of Al-Dujayl in 1982.
Today’s session included appearances by two former regime officials as witnesses.
One of the witnesses was Ahmad Khudayir, who took his post as the head of Hussein's presidential office a decade after the events in Al-Dujayl.
The other former regime member who appeared as a witness was Hassan al-Ubaydi, a former intelligence official.
However, the two former Hussein aides said they refused to testify and were brought to the court by force.
Asked about the events in Al-Dujayl, Khudayir said: “I don’t remember anything. There may be documents but memory does not serve me after all these years.”
The court proceedings are being closely watched by international rights agencies concerned that the defendants receive a fair trial.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch organization said in a statement on 11 February that the court must balance defendants’ rights with the need to maintain order during the trial.
“The court is fully entitled to discipline lawyers for misconduct," the Human Rights Watch statement said. "But if the court takes the drastic step of dismissing defendants’ chosen attorneys and imposes new lawyers who the defendants reject, the judges are taking an enormous risk with the fairness of the trial.”
A slideshow of photographs from Saddam Hussein's years ruling Iraq through his downfall.