NEW YORK – Saddam Hussein's showing some attitude.
The former Iraqi dictator showed up in an Iraqi court Thursday to be slapped with seven broad, preliminary charges ranging from the gassing of Kurds (search) in Halabja in 1988, killing members of political parties over the last 30 years, the suppression of the 1991 uprisings by Kurds and Shiites (search) and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Specific charges will be filed later.
Acting defiant and questioning the authority of the Iraqi court established to try him and the judge listening to his rants, the Butcher of Baghdad spent his time in court pointing fingers at the judge, changing moods from nervousness to exasperation, pounding his fists while gesticulating, carrying on about how he's not to blame for anything other than looking out for Iraqis while still maintaining, "I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq."
When asked his name, he repeated it in full, "Saddam Hussein al-Majid, president of Iraq."
He also argued with the judge and laughed when the judge said he was tasked by the coalition authorities to try Saddam. The former dictator called the court "theater."
"He needs to understand that today his job was to sit there, be quiet, or stand, and listen," said Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom.
"I think he's going to continue to be this way," added Iraqi National Congress (search) spokesman Entifadh Qanbar. "That's basically how dictators think — they are living in their own moment and world surrounded 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.
Experts say it's far from shocking a dictator of Saddam's caliber would act as if he's still king of the world and challenge those trying to put him in his place.
"What we saw today shouldn't surprise anyone, this is typical of a leader like Hussein," said David Scheffer, a former war crimes ambassador at large. "These men come into their first appearances always defiant and always challenge the court."
"These men" include former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (search), who's being charged for war crimes in Kosovo before a tribunal in The Hague.
During Milosevic's hearings — which have been going on now for over two years — the former president at first refused to retain counsel or enter a plea, later made outbursts against NATO for its 1998 bombing of Yugoslavia and accused the court of being biased and politically motivated, among other things.
"I consider this tribunal false tribunal and indictments false indictments," Milosevic combatively told the court in July of 2001 while holding his head high, thrusting his jaw forward and smothering his remarks in obvious disdain. That day's hearing was the most watched tribunal proceeding in the court's eight-year history.
At one point, when the presiding judge offered Milosevic a chance to have the 54-page indictment read, the former Yugoslavian leader said, "That's your problem."
Some observers said the circus-like proceedings at The Hague cannot be allowed during Saddam's trial and strict discipline must be exercised by the Iraqi judges to make sure the former Iraqi leader doesn't use the courtroom as a bully pulpit to espouse his political statements.
"The real concern is that Saddam, like Slobodon Milosevic in the Yugoslav trial, could use this as a platform for continuing his political agenda" of undermining the new Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition, said Paul Williams, a law and international relations professor at American University (search) in Washington, D.C.
"I think what we'll find is that [the] strategy will be to litter the court with a variety of motions which the court will rule on … quite frankly, 60 to 70 percent of the trial will be political."
Saddam even tried to put anyone other than himself on trial, saying: "This is all theater. The real criminal is Bush," calling the trial the American president's attempt to "win the election."
Alice Weiser, a certified graphologist who studies body language, pointed out that Saddam at times would continuously jab his finger or his fist at the judge, his eye would slightly twitch when he got really angry, as would his eyes widen and face turn red.
"His demeanor to me shows … [that he's] arrogant, combative, controlling, when he points with his fist, it's intimidating and it's arrogant and when you continue to do that, at one point he used two fists to point … that's double defiance and rebelliousness and pointing the guilt at you," Weiser said. "As far as he's concerned, he's very much in control ... I think he's doing a great performance myself, I really do."
The 67-year-old Saddam appeared most agitated when the subject came to the invasion of Kuwait — one of the charges against him.
"The armed forces went to Kuwait," Saddam said. "Is it possible to raise accusations against an official figure and this figure be treated apart from the official guarantees stipulated by the constitution and the law? Where is this law upon which you are conducting investigations?
"How could Saddam be tried over Kuwait that said it will reduce Iraqi women to 10-dinar prostitutes?" Saddam asked. "He defended Iraq's honor and revived its historical rights over those dogs."
The judge then said he would not tolerate such language in the courtroom.
Yossef Bodansky, director of Congress' Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare (search), said that if Saddam's rants continue and the trial is put on center stage on Arab media like Al Jazeera and Al Aribiya, that could be bad news for the historic proceeding's outcome, which likely will be the death penalty if enough evidence is presented.
"I think he knows he's facing the noose, literally," Bodansky said, "and he's going to make the most of the time between today and the inevitable hanging."