A defiant Saddam Hussein has been arraigned in an Iraqi court where he rejected charges against him and denounced the tribunal set to try him for war crimes as theatre. The dramatic day was the start of what is expected to be a long, drawn out legal process over the coming months. Saddam Hussein appeared in a special Iraqi court Thursday where he was presented with some of the war crimes charges against him stemming from his quarter century in power. It was the first time the world has seen him since just after he was captured by American forces last December.
In video of the arraignment cleared by the U.S. military, the former Iraqi leader is at times animated, argumentative and angry, defending Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and denouncing his arraignment as a political stunt.
CNN producer Ayman Mohyeldin was among the small pool of reporters allowed inside the heavily guarded courtroom. "In response to the seven charges that were being brought against Saddam, he responded by saying he did these or carried these out in his capacity as president of Iraq. At one point, Saddam said that this whole process was theatrical, that this was being carried out by Bush the criminal to win the election," he said.
The former dictator rejected charges of gassing the Kurds in 1988. But surprisingly, he did not appear to contest other counts against him, including ordering the killing of political opponents. Iraq's Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati spoke to reporters after Saddam's court appearance.
"He was given 24 hours to reply to some of the questions today and he will have a chance to ask any questions he has and to appoint a lawyer," he said.
From Amman, Jordan, Tim Hughes, a British defense lawyer appointed by Saddam's wife complained his client has been denied access to basic rights. "We do not know as yet what charges he's going to face, we do not know what evidence those charges are based," he said. "So we are not in a position to react to it because the client has been denied the basic rights to legal advice throughout his detention."
Across Baghdad, reaction to Saddam Hussein's court appearance was mixed.
One man was happy to see the former dictator facing criminal charges, calling it a historic day for the Iraqi people. But others condemned a process that they considered orchestrated by the United States.
"The same people who put him in the leadership position of Iraq, dealing with him in this way, [now] make him a criminal," one person said.
"What a shame. They show us our president and we are with our president Saddam Hussein and we refuse this court," said another.
Evidence in the case is said to be dispersed among some 30 tons of documents and the trial is still months away. It's expected that 11 of the former Iraqi leader's co-defendants who were also arraigned Thursday would likely be tried first.