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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 November 2006, 09:05 GMT
Saddam: Showman without a script
By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News

From the moment, a year ago, when Saddam Hussein's chains were taken off and he sat down in the dock for the first time, he has dominated the court.

Saddam Hussein in court
Saddam Hussein frequently quoted from the Koran in court
At first he was still regarded with contempt by many of his natural supporters in Iraq and elsewhere.

This was the man who had urged them to shed their life's blood in his defence, and had then meekly surrendered to the Americans.

Slowly, though, his self-possession grew. He looked good in the dock, in clothes that were made especially for him by his old tailor, and he learned how to make his points successfully and well, with an economy of effort.

Weak prosecution

He was helped by the fact that in both his first trial, for the killings of Shia Muslims at Dujail, and in the second one, for the Anfal campaign against the Kurds, the prosecution seemed weak and ill at ease.

He never seemed to have a coherent defence strategy

The evidence was often poorly assembled, and the arguments ineffectual.

Both the defence and prosecution lawyers had grown up in a legal system which the former Iraqi president himself had controlled.

Under him, justice was often the last consideration.

Whether from religious conviction or calculation, Saddam Hussein took to bringing a finely-bound copy of the Koran into court, and would occasionally quote from it.

Saddam Hussein in court

He would sometimes shout out verses from it in order to rebuke his judges or accusers.

Other tactics were less effective.

He announced more than once that he was going on hunger strike, but we would rarely hear any more about it.

In the early stages of the Dujail trial, he refused to acknowledge the right of the court to judge him, then meekly pleaded "not guilty" when the question was put to him.

It was only later, as his self-confidence grew, that he would shout out that he was the rightful president of Iraq, that the judges and prosecution should treat him with greater respect, that the invasion which overthrew him had been illegal under international law.

Sniggers

Yet he never seemed to have a coherent defence strategy.

If he had persisted in attacking the questionable legal basis of the US-led invasion he would probably have had much more impact.

But there has always been a rambling, inconsequential element to his speeches, as though the experience of being overthrown had somehow affected his intellect.

In the middle of the Dujail trial, he made a dignified speech about the way his captors were treating him, only to lapse into bathos as his complaints became more and more trivial.

It would no doubt have been more humane if the Americans had allowed him to lock his lavatory door, but it just raised sniggers in court when he complained about it.

His two trials have fallen well short of the standard they should have aimed at.

But Saddam Hussein himself has never managed the kind of aloof dignity that might have won over the people in Iraq whom he once terrorised.


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Saddam Hussein is told the verdict



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