BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP – Saddam Hussein was cross-examined for the first time in his six-month-old trial on Wednesday, saying he approved death sentences against Shiites in the 1980s because he believed the evidence had proven they were involved in an assassination attempt against him.
Saddam, standing alone as the sole defendant in the courtroom, dodged some questions from prosecutors over his role in a crackdown against the Shiites, giving long speeches calling the court “illegitimate.” He accused the current Shiite-led Interior Ministry of killing and torturing thousands of Iraqis and bickered with chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman.
The session came a day after prosecutors indicted Saddam on separate charges of genocide, accusing him of trying to exterminate Kurds in a 1980s campaign that killed an estimated 100,000 people. The charges will be dealt with in a separate trial.
In the current trial, Saddam and seven former members of his regime are charged in a crackdown against Shiites launched after a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam in the town of Dujail. In the sweep that followed, 148 Shiites were killed and hundreds were imprisoned, some of them undergoing torture.
Chief prosecutor Moussa al-Jaafari asked Saddam about his approval for death sentences passed against the 148 by his Revolutionary Court, which prosecutors have argued gave the Shiites only a cursory trial.
“That is one of the duties of the president,” Saddam replied. “I had the right to question the judgment. But I was convinced the evidence that was presented was sufficient” to show their guilt in the assassination attempt.