Notebook: Trial Frustrations

FOX News correspondent Dana Lewis is in Baghdad's Green Zone covering the trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his codefendants.

There is something almost humorous about the technical difficulties and chaos surrounding the trial of Saddam Hussein. Humorous because day after day, the problems seem to get worse and the frustration for a reporter sitting in the most important legal process in Iraq's history is almost unbearable.

It's not an overstatement to say almost half the time I can't hear, nor can my colleagues hear or as of today, see much of what is happening.
The problem began with the translators, who do not speak English very well and are struggling to hear one person as several — including Saddam — often are yelling all the same time.
The first day they had to stop the trial because someone forgot to turn on the microphones in court. We missed a sizable portion of Saddam's first angry outburst.
Yesterday the problem deepened when the chief judge kept nervously fingering a button that cuts off all audio except his. This was because Saddam was going off on some political tangents and it would appear the decision was made to censor the proceedings.
Because of ambient microphones we were later able to get better translations from broadcast tapes. But some of the testimony wasn't released and we could only hear portions of it.
It's the court that decided to have cameras and live TV ... well, almost live. It's all broadcast on a 30-minute delay, which was supposed to be there to protect the accidental broadcast of a frightened witness for security reasons.
But now we see that the censorship applies to much more than a name. If Saddam gets angry, suddenly we hear an American voice in the translation room telling the translator to stop or go.
The court wanted the court to be open to the world to show that the old days of Saddam's secret trials and twisted justice were over.
Today more difficulties. A witness appearing behind a curtain for secrecy was given electronic altering of her voice to the point she started sounding like an evil Darth Vader instead of a tearful victim of torture, which is what she is.
Then when she appeared in open court under a rule that allows defendants to face their accusers, instead of ordering the cameras be turned away, the judge cut all the audio and translation and drew a curtain on the press area in the back of the court room.
What we now have is testimony and court proceedings in secret.
A second woman testifying wasn't heard at all because the judge decided he didn't like the altered sound so he turned off her microphone. And there was no way the translator could hear her without a microphone.
Mystery witness. Secret proceedings. Not what the court or its American advisers wanted but now largely have.