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Saddam: 'Real Criminal Is Bush'

In this image cleared by the US military, Saddam Hussein appears in a courtroom at Camp Victory, a former Saddam palace on the outskirts of Baghdad, Thursday, July 1, 2004.
AP
In his first public appearance in months, Saddam Hussein rejected charges of war crimes and genocide, telling a judge in Baghdad "this is all theater, the real criminal is Bush."

The deposed Iraqi dictator was handcuffed when brought to the court but the shackles were removed for the arraignment at Camp Victory, one of his former palaces on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital.

"I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq," Saddam said unprompted, sitting down in a chair facing the judge on the other side of a wooden railing. When asked his name, he repeated it in full: "Saddam Hussein al-Majid, president of Iraq."

CBS News Anchor Dan Rather said Saddam's appearance — which lasted about half an hour — suggested that his defense will rest in part on a challenge to the legal basis of the Iraqi court.

Unaccompanied by a lawyer, Saddam refused to sign a list of charges against him unless he had legal counsel, and he questioned the court's jurisdiction.

"Please allow me not to sign until the lawyers are present. ... Anyhow, when you take a procedure to bring me here again, present me with all these papers with the presence of lawyers. Why would you behave in a manner that we might call hasty later on?" he said.

Saddam also accused the White House of orchestrating the hearing.

"You know that this is all a theater by Bush, the criminal, to help him with his campaign," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush watched a televised replay of the hearing.

"I'm sure Saddam Hussein will continue to say all sorts of things," McClellan said. "What's important is that Saddam Hussein and his regime leaders are going to face justice from the Iraqi people before an Iraqi court."

Strict pool arrangements severely limited media access to the hearing. The

, which was cleared by the U.S. military, was initially broadcast without sound, but some parts of the tape were later released with sound.

The only journalist working for an Iraqi publication, Sadiq Rahman of the newspaper Azzaman, was ordered out of the courtroom by the judge 10 minutes before the hearing began. One Iraqi working for the pan-Arab Shaq al-Awsat newspaper was allowed to attend.

"Unfortunately, they are already being unfair to Iraqi journalists," Rahman said afterward, noting that some U.S. television reporters were allowed inside in addition to the pool.

According to pool reports, there were roughly 15 to 18 people in the courtroom, including tribunal administrator Salem Chalabi and two representatives of the U.S. Justice Department.

The videotape shows Saddam, looking thinner than when captured, dressed in a dark, pinstriped suit with a white shirt and no tie. He wore a short beard flushed with grey.

The seven broad charges against Saddam are the killing of religious figures in 1974; gassing of Kurds in Halabja in 1988; killing the Kurdish Barzani clan in 1983; killing members of political parties in the last 30 years; the 1986-88 "Anfal" campaign of displacing Kurds; the suppression of the 1991 uprisings by Kurds and Shiites; and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

To the final charge, Saddam said, "I can't believe you are charging me with this when you know Kuwait is part of Iraq."

Saddam was referencing an old territorial dispute that was the pretext for the 1990 invasion. Rather reports he was claiming to have acted in his legitimate capacity as president, and in his nation's best interests, in invading Kuwait.

When he referred to the Kuwaitis as "dogs," the judge admonished him for using such language in a court of law.

A formal indictment with specific charges is expected later, said Chalabi. The trial isn't expected until 2005.

Saddam and 11 of his former top aides were transferred to Iraqi custody Wednesday. They include former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, the regime's best-known spokesman in the West; Ali Hasan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali;" and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Although Saddam is officially in Iraqi legal custody, for security reasons and at the request of the prime minister, he will remain in a U.S.-controlled jail guarded by Americans until the Iraqis are ready to take physical custody of him. That is expected to take a long time.

There are pretrial negotiations over permitting Saddam's foreign legal team to work in Iraq, whether to televise the proceedings, and whether to reinstate the death penalty.

U.S. and Iraqi officials hope the trial will lay bare the atrocities of his regime and help push the country toward normalcy after years of tyranny, the U.S.-led invasion and the insurgency that has blossomed in its aftermath.

A CBS News/New York Times Poll in April found that Americans still see ousting Saddam as far and away the most important accomplishment of the war. Fifty-seven percent cited it as the top reason, compared to 5 percent who said liberating the Iraqi people was most important.

Most of Iraq's 25 million people were overjoyed when Saddam's regime collapsed, and many are looking forward to the day he will be punished.

"Everyone all over the world agrees that Saddam Hussein should be put on trial in front of the Iraqi people," said Baghdad resident Ahmad al-Lami.

But the trial could have the opposite effect, possibly widening the chasm among Iraq's disparate groups — Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis.

The turmoil of the past 14 months has led to a longing for the stability and order of the ousted dictatorship.

"Saddam Hussein was a national hero and better than the traitors in the new government," a resident of Saddam's hometown of Tikrit told APTN, refusing to give his name.

The other defendants whose legal custody was transferred Wednesday include Saddam's half brothers and president advisers Watban Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti and Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, Republican Guard official and Saddam son-in-law Kamal Mustafa Abdullah al-Tikriti, Gulf War intelligence chief Sabir Abdul Aziz Al-Douri, personal security director Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti, defense minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad, former Baath Party official Aziz Saleh al-Numan, and Muhammed Hamza al-Zubaydi, a leader of the 1991 suppression of the Shiite rebellion.