BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP)- Saddam Hussein went on trial Wednesday for alleged crimes against fellow Iraqis, appearing in a tightly secured courtroom in the former headquarters of his Baath Party nearly two years after his capture and facing charges in a 1982 massacre of nearly 150 Shiites that could carry the death penalty if he is convicted.
The 68-year-old ousted Iraqi leader and his seven co-defendants, all top officials from his regime, sat in two rows, with Saddam in the front, directly facing the panel of five judges that will both hear the the case and render a verdict in what could be the first of several trials of Saddam for atrocities carried out during his 23-year-rule.
Defense lawyers sat to the defendants” right, the prosecutors to their left in the small courtroom, located in the marble building that once served as the National Command Headquarters of his feared Baath Party.
The building, located in Baghdad”s Green Zone, the heavily fortified district wheree Iraq”s government, parliament and the U.S. Embassy are located, was ringed with 3-meter-high (10-foot) blast walls and U.S. and Iraqi troops, with several Humvees and at least one tank deployed outside.
The trial was being aired with a 20-minute delay on state-run Iraqi television and on satellite stations across Iraq and the Arab world. Many Iraqis, particularly from the Shiite Muslim majority and the Kurdish minority, the two communities most oppressed by Saddam”s regime, have eagerly awaited the chance to see the man who ruled Iraq with unquestioned and total power held to justice.
But in some ways, Iraq also will be on trial, with the world watching to see whether its new Shiite and Kurd-dominated ruling class can rise above politics and prejudice and give the former dictator a fair hearing.
Human rights group have criticized the government for trying to influence the trial and that considerable U.S. logistical and financial aid to the tribunal could lend credibility to charges that it will mete out "victors” justice."
Saddam and the seven others are facing charges that they ordered the killing in 1982 of nearly 150 people in the mainly Shiite village of Dujail north of Baghdad after a failed attempt on the former dictator”s life.