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Saddam refutes charges, bashes Bush

Baghdad, July 1
A defiant Saddam Hussein rejected charges against him as he appeared before an Iraqi judge today, telling the court “this is all theatre, the real criminal is Bush.”

Saddam’s hands were cuffed when he was brought into court but the shackles were removed for the arraignment, which lasted about 30 minutes.

“I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq,” Saddam said, according to a CNN reporter.

In his first public appearance since he was captured seven months ago, Saddam refused to sign a list of charges against him and questioned the court’s jurisdiction, according to the CNN reporter who was in the courtroom as part of a pool arrangement. He defended the invasion of Kuwait, saying he invaded it “for the Iraqi people.”

Saddam was flown by helicopter from an undisclosed location and driven to a court room on US base. He was led from an armoured bus escorted by two Iraqi prison guards and ushered through a door guarded by six more Iraqi policemen, the pool report said.

Strict pool arrangements severely limited media access to the hearing.

The charges against Saddam were expected to include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. A formal indictment with specific charges is expected later, said Salem Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

The initial proceedings were taking place under a blanket of secrecy because of fears that insurgents, many of them Saddam supporters, might exact revenge. US and Iraqi officials refused to say where today’s hearing was taking place or release the name of the presiding judge.

Saddam and the other 11 suspects were transferred to Iraqi custody yesterday. He and the others are no longer prisoners of war but are still locked up with US forces as their jailers.

“They were surprised that they were told they’re in Iraqi custody,” Chalabi said.

US 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 US-led invasion and the insurgency that has blossomed in its aftermath.

The transfer of legal custody took place in secret. Chalabi said the defendants were brought one by one into a room at an undisclosed location and informed of the change in their status to criminal suspects. They were told that they will appear in court within 24 hours to hear charges, he said.

According to Chalabi, the 67-year-old Saddam said “good morning” as he entered the room, listened to the official explanation, and was told he could respond to the complaints today. He was then hustled away.

“Some of them looked very worried,” Chalabi said of the other defendants. 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. — AP

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