BAGHDAD, Iraq – A piece of key evidence in the trial against Saddam Hussein (search) is a video clip allegedly shot by his own photographer: Prosecutors say it shows Saddam interrogating four residents of the town of Dujail after a purported attempt on his life.
Later, 148 people were killed in Dujail, allegedly in retaliation.
Other pending cases against Saddam involve more notorious atrocities with far more deaths, such as the Anfal Offensive (search) that killed some 180,000 Kurds or a poison gas attack on the town of Halabja that killed 5,000.
But prosecutors say they brought the Dujail case against Saddam first, because they had more solid, easy-to-gather evidence.
The Dubai-based Al-Arabiya (search) channel said it obtained footage that the prosecutor referred to in court as evidence. The footage shows Saddam addressing cheering crowds in Dujail after the alleged assassination attempt, vowing to bring in the conspirators and interrogate them.
"They won't be more than two, three, four, five or ten, but the people of Dujail, 39,000, are all faithful .... the traitors are only a minority in Dujail," Saddam, dressed in military fatigues, said. His voice was drowned out by cheers from the crowd and chants of "We sacrifice our soul and blood for you, Saddam."
Saddam is later seen talking to four men, held by the arms by security forces, apparently those accused of being involved in the attack.
"Sir, am fasting," one of the men says.
"Ok, Khomeini fasts too," Saddam spits back, referring to the Iran's then supreme leader Ayatollah Rohollah Khomeini, Iraq's most bitter enemy. At the time, the two countries had been fighting a brutal war for nearly two years.
"Please, sir. Ask about me and about my people. I am from Samarra," another of the men pleads.
"Take them, each by himself," Saddam orders his security men.
At the opening of the trial Wednesday, chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mousawi outlined the case against Saddam and seven members of his former regime, saying Saddam was closely involved in planning the retaliation killings.
The prosecutor maintained he has official documents, the video and witnesses to back his account of the Dujail events. The eight defendants pleaded not guilty.
Saddam countered that videotapes should not be admissible as evidence, insisting they can be altered and faked. The judge did not respond to his argument.
The Dujail case all started when Saddam visited the previously little-known town of July 8, 1982.
What followed, the prosecutor said, was a series of raids, arrests, killings and destruction of a scale disproportionate to a relatively minor incident.
There is a widely held belief that gunmen shot at Saddam's convoy as it drove through Dujail. The chief prosecutor challenged that Wednesday, arguing that about a dozen bullets, maybe up to 15, were fired from an automatic rifle into the air — not at Saddam's motorcade.
In a speech after the alleged attack, Saddam himself told the people of Dujail that no more than 10 gunmen were involved, al-Mousawi said.
That same day, four people from Dujail were arrested and brought to Saddam, who personally interrogated them.
Then, hours after the Iraqi president left town, huge numbers of Republican Guards, security forces, members of Saddam's Baath party and his intelligence service descended on Dujail, sealing it off. Helicopters indiscriminately fired on fields, killing many people, al-Mousawi said.
Back in Baghdad, Saddam asked Taha Yassin Ramadan — a co-defendant in the Dujail trial — to head a security meeting in response to the alleged attack against him, and asked his half brother, Barazan Ibrahim, to lead the operations, the prosecutor said.
The response was swift.
Ibrahim arrived in Dujail at 7 p.m. that same day. He ordered security and intelligence forces to raid homes and to arrest suspects and their relatives. In all, 687 were detained. Because the Dujail operations center was too small, the suspects were sent to a security office in Baghdad.
On July 10, a committee headed by Ramadan was formed upon Saddam's order to study the situation in Dujail and make security recommendations.
The committee recommended that 399 detainees — including women, children and elderly — be transferred to a desert detention camp in Samawah, near the Saudi border, and that the detainees orchards and agricultural lands in Dujail be destroyed.
When the intelligence investigators returned from Dujail, they started questioning 148 suspects.
"They used all kinds of physical and psychological torture against them," al-Mousawi said, claiming that 46 of them died during the interrogations and were secretly buried.
Saddam honored some of the officials who carried out the acts of reprisals against the people of Dujail, prompting investigators to "embark on more barbaric acts," the prosecutor added.
The 148 were then referred to the Revolutionary Court — a step that al-Mousawi said was a charade of justice.
Among the 148 people were the 46 who al-Mousawi maintains died during interrogations; four who were apparently executed separately and who al-Mousawi says were not even related to the Dujail case; and two who were detained in the desert camp.
"This shows that the procedures of the Revolutionary court were nominal and only on paper, meaning that the defendants were not brought to the court and were not tried," the prosecutor told the court.
Nonetheless, he said, the 148 received death sentences within hours. None of the official documents name defense attorneys, he added.
Saddam later pardoned hundreds of people detained in the desert camp. They returned to Dujail to find lands destroyed, homes demolished and loved ones missing.