A defiant Saddam Hussein has appeared in an Iraqi court to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during his brutal 24-year rule.

During the proceedings, Saddam refused to sign a legal document that outlined the charges, defended the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, denounced the process as "theater," and said President Bush was the real criminal.

Saddam and 11 of his former top aides are appearing separately before the tribunal to hear criminal charges against them.

The proceedings were videotaped and later aired worldwide. It was the first time Saddam has been seen publicly since his capture in December.

Thursday's proceedings took place under extremely tight security at a U.S. military base on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Iraq's interim government took legal custody of Saddam and his former aides Wednesday, changing their status from prisoners of war to criminal defendants. The U.S. military will continue to hold and guard the men.