Saddam takes the stand for the first time

Chief judge closes Saddam testimony to public Says former president was making political speeches.

four-eyed saddam 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
four-eyed saddam 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Saddam Hussein, called to testify in his trial for the first time Wednesday, insisted he was still Iraq's president and called on Iraqis to stop a bloody wave of sectarian violence, prompting a shouting match with the chief judge who told him to stop political speeches. After Saddam refused to stop his statement, chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman angrily closed the session to the public, ordering journalists out of the courtroom's viewing chamber. "You used to be a head of state. You are a defendant now," Abdel-Rahman barked at Saddam. Saddam was the last of the case's eight defendants to testify. Though he has spoken frequently since the trial began in October, Wednesday's session was to be the first chance for the judge and prosecutors to directly question him. Instead, Saddam - dressed in a black suit - read from a written statement in which he insisted he was Iraq's elected president and began to address the Iraqi people about the bloody wave of sectarian violence that has rocked the country since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine last month. "What pains me most is what I heard recently about something that aims to harm our people," Saddam said. "My conscience tells me that the great people of Iraq have nothing to do with these acts," he said referring to the bombing of the shrine in the city of Samarra. Abdel-Rahman interrupted saying he was not allowed to give political speeches in the court. "I am the head of state," Saddam replied. "You used to be a head of state. You are a defendant now," Abdel-Rahman said. As Saddam continued reading from a prepared text, the judge repeatedly closed his microphone to prevent his words from being heard and told him to address the charges against him. Saddam ignored the judge and continued speaking. "Your are being tried in a criminal case. Stop your political speech," Abdel-Rahman said angrily. "Had it not been for politics I wouldn't be here," Saddam replied. He went on with his speech, urging Iraqis not fight each other. "What happened in the last days is bad," he said, referring to the recent violence. "You will live in darkness and rivers of blood for no reason." He praised the insurgency, saying, "In my eyes, you are the resistance to the American invasion." "You are being tried in a criminal case for killing innocent people, not because of your conflict with America," Abdel-Rahman told him. "What about the innocent people who are dying in Baghdad? I am talking to the Iraqi people," Saddam replied. Finally, Abdel-Rahman ordered the session closed to the public. "The court has decided to turn this into a secret and closed session," he said.