Thursday, July 01, 2004

A nervous and thinner Saddam Hussein appeared before an Iraqi judge yesterday — insisting he's still president even though he was facing genocide charges that could result in his execution.

Dressed in a gray Arab gown, the deposed dictator and 11 of his lieutenants held their first meeting with Salem Chalabi, head of the tribunal that will try them for war crimes, as Iraq formally took legal custody over their case.

At the high-security U.S. jail cell at Baghdad International Airport where he will be held until trial, Saddam greeted Chalabi and aides with a "cold 'good morning,' " Chalabi said.

Then summoning his infamous pride, Saddam proclaimed, "I am Saddam Hussein al-Majid, president of the Republic of Iraq," The Times of London reported.

During the five-minute meeting, Saddam remained seated while everyone else stood, in a display of disdain.
Despite Saddam's haughty and defiant demeanor, Chalabi told ABC News that the man in the jail cell was a shadow of the fearsome Butcher of Baghdad that Iraqis were accustomed to seeing.

"He had lost weight. He was not the towering figure that we used to see on TV before. He was nervous — physically nervous — because he did not know what was happening," Chalabi told ABC.

Saddam tried to ask questions but was told more information would be forthcoming today at his formal arraignment.

Video of today's dramatic court session will be televised to demonstrate that the days of Saddam are truly over.

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