BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein (search), as defiant as ever, appeared in an Iraqi court Thursday but rejected war crimes and genocide charges against him.
A video of the court proceeding aired shortly before 9 a.m. EDT, showing the 67-year-old Saddam seated in front of the judge, with a wooden bar separating the two. The tape showed the judge from behind and from the side.
When asked if he could afford a lawyer, Saddam retorted: "The Americans say I have millions hidden in Switzerland. How can I not have the money to pay for one?"
"I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq," Saddam said, according to a pool report from inside the proceeding. The former dictator's hands were cuffed when he was brought to the court but the shackles were removed for the 30-minute long arraignment that was held at Camp Victory, a former Saddam palace on the outskirts of Baghdad.
A judge read the charges against the Butcher of Baghdad and 11 of his top lieutenants.
The seven broad charges against Saddam are the killing of religious figures in 1974; gassing of Kurds in Halabja (search) in 1988; killing the Kurdish Barzani (search) clan in 1983; killing members of political parties in the last 30 years; the 1986-88 "Anfal" campaign of displacing Kurds (search); the suppression of the 1991 uprisings by Kurds and Shiites; and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"I cannot believe you, an Iraqi, are charging me with this when you know Kuwait is part of Iraq," Saddam told the judge, later adding, "I did all of these things as president, so don't strip me of that title."
At one point, Saddam said he was only protecting Iraqi people from Kuwaitis who wanted to turn Iraqi people into "prostitutes." The judge interrupted Saddam, saying he is not allowed to use such language in his court.
Saddam questioned the court's jurisdiction, refused to sign a list of seven preliminary charges against him and defended the invasion of Kuwait saying he did it "for the Iraqi people" and calling Kuwaitis "dogs."
"He also said: "This is all theater, the real criminal is Bush."
"He's the bully he's always been …. It sounds like he's been getting defensive advice from George Soros and Michael Moore," former U.S. attorney Joe DiGenova told Fox News after the court proceedings were over.
The White House didn't respond directly to Saddam's anti-Bush comments.
"The president is pleased that Saddam Hussein and his regime leaders have been brought to justice by the Iraqi people for atrocities he and his regime committed," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Thursday. "I think what you're seeing is, from the court itself, justice and rule of law are part of the new Iraq."
Saddam didn't want to be in court without a lawyer and did not want to sign any papers without his lawyer present. He said he wanted to be addressed as the president of Iraq, not the former president of Iraq. He also argued with the judge and laughed when the judge said he was tasked by the coalition authorities to try him.
"He needs to understand that today his job was to sit there, be quiet, or stand, and listen," said Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom.
Saddam wore a gray, pinstriped suit with an open-collar white shirt and black shoes. His beard was trimmed and he had heavy bags under his eyes. He sat calmly, occasionally gesturing with his hands while addressing the court.
Saddam sometimes took notes on a piece of yellow paper and gestured with his hands. He often stroked his trimmed beard and appeared thoughtful.
More Formal Charges Coming
A formal indictment with specific charges is expected later. Those charges were expected to include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The trial isn't expected until 2005.
"The next legal step would be that the investigations start proper with investigative judges and investigators beginning the process of gathering evidence," said Salem Chalabi, (search) the director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal. "Down the line, there will be an indictment, if there is enough evidence — obviously, and a time table starts with respect to a trial date."
President Ghazi al-Yawer told an Arab newspaper that Iraq's new government has decided to reinstate the death penalty, which was suspended during the U.S. occupation.
"This is history in the making — this is something quite unbelievable for me as an Iraqi … I'm proud that now we have a court we can try such people," Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress (search), told FOX News after the video of Saddam's appearance aired.
Commenting on Saddam's demeanor and actions during the proceedings, in which he acted demonstrative, gesticulated a lot and still claimed to be the leader of Iraq, Qanbar said: "I think he's going to continue to be this way …that's basically how dictators think — they are living in their own moment and world surrounding by their own followers who tell you you are great.
"Saddam thinks what he says is right and the right of this planet and what is against him is wrong and the wrong of the whole planet," Qanbar continued.
Saddam was brought to the courthouse in a convoy of four Humvees, an ambulance and an armored bus and escorted into the courthouse by two Iraqis at about 6:20 a.m. EDT. A total of eight Iraqi security personnel were in the convoy. He left court at 7:15 EDT.
Earlier, Chalabi said Saddam and his lieutenants were in good health.
"He looks fine, he's seen by a doctor on a daily basis and looks fine, he's thinner and his hair is a bit wavy but otherwise, he's OK," Chalabi told AP Radio.
'The Trial of the Century'
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.
"This it’s the first time a brutal leaders is going to be tried and that by Iraqi standards is extremely important," Mideast terrorism expert Walid Phares told FOX News. "The Iraqis are going to be watching for a long time …it is going to be a shock treatment to the massacres that occurred in Iraq."
But the trial could have the opposite effect, possibly widening the chasm among Iraq's disparate groups — Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis.
"It's going to be the trial of the century," National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie told Associated Press Television News. "Everybody is going to watch this trial, and we are going to demonstrate to the outside world that we in the new Iraq are going to be an example of what the new Iraq is all about."
Wednesday's transfer of legal custody took place in secret. Chalabi said the 11 other defendants were brought one by one into a room at an undisclosed location and informed of the change in their status to criminal suspects. Saddam and the others are no longer prisoners of war but are still locked up with U.S. forces as their jailers. They were told that they will appear in court within 24 hours to hear charges, he said.
"They were surprised that they were told they're in Iraqi custody," Chalabi told AP Radio.
According to Chalabi, Saddam said "good morning" as he entered the room, listened to the official explanation, and was told he could respond to the complaints Thursday. 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 (search), the regime's best-known spokesman in the West; Ali Hasan al-Majid (search), known as "Chemical Ali;" and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan (search).
The initial proceedings are taking place under a blanket of secrecy because of fears that insurgents, many of them Saddam supporters, might exact revenge on those taking part.
Issam Ghazawi, a member of Saddam's defense team, said he received threats in a telephone call Wednesday from someone who claimed to be a minister of justice who promised that anyone who tried to defend Saddam would be "chopped to pieces."
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.
Fox News' David Lee Miller, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.