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UPDATED: 08:14, July 02, 2004
Arraignment of Saddam, 11 aides finished
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The arraignment of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and 11 of his top aides was finished Thursday, the US military said.

Besides Saddam, former Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz and Hassan Ali al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", were among those who appeared in court to face criminal charges.

The "US prisoners" were brought to the court, known as the Iraqi Special War Crimes Tribunal, separately, and the pre-trial hearing of Saddam alone lasted around 30 minutes.

Saddam, who for the first time appeared in footage aired around the world since he was captured by US forces last December, mocked the hearing as "theatre" and refused to sign on the legal document confirming his understanding of the charges.

An Iraqi judge read seven charges against him, including the bloody suppression of Shiite uprising, a decade of war with Iran and the invasion of Kuwait.

"Saddam was responsible for two devastating wars against Kuwait and Iran and this will be one of the main elements of this trial," said Hamid Bayati, Iraq's deputy foreign minister.

According to the pool reporters, a defiant Saddam was brought into the courtroom handcuffed. After his arrival at the room, his handcuffs were removed.

Dressed decently in a tieless suit, the 67-year-old former president still held his defiance. "I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq," he declared, saying even the invaders in Iraq could not deprive him of this title.

However, the trimmed but grizzled beard and a much thinner countenance revealed his haggardness.

Alternating between listening and gesticulating to the judge, Saddam mocked the court as "theatre." "This is all theatre. The real criminal is Bush," he derided.

When talking about Iraq's invasion into neighboring Kuwait, Saddam justified his decision as defending the Iraqi people from "those mad dogs," a term referring to Kuwaitis and rebuked by the judge.

Asked if he was guilty in ordering the use of chemical weapons and killing thousands of Kurds in 1988, he said "I heard about that in the media as well."

Saddam insisted that he was still the president of Iraq and the court had no right to "strip the title" and put him on trial.

"I am still the president of Iraq and the occupation can't take that away," he said.

Requested to give his full name, he said "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq." He repeated the sentence when asked to give the full name again.

When told he could seek legal counsel, the deposed leader remained defiant.

"Everyone says, the Americans say, I have millions of dollars stashed away in Geneva. Why shouldn't I afford a lawyer?" he said.

During the 30-minute arraignment, Saddam wrote down on a notebook for several times and remained calm.

His first public hearing took place at Camp Victory, a lavish complex previously used by Saddam as a palace on the outskirts in Baghdad.

The hearing came after the end of his status as prisoner of war.

Saddam and his 11 former top aides were handed over to Iraqi custody on Wednesday, two days after sovereignty was formally remitted to the Iraqi interim government.

Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan said Thursday that death penalty would be applied to Saddam if he was convicted of the crimes he was accused of.

Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar said the interim government has decided to reinstate death penalty, which was suspended during the US occupation.

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