Notebook: Observing Saddam's Trial

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein speaks to Presiding Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin as his trial resumes in Baghdad, Monday Nov. 28, 2005. Saddam Hussein and seven others face 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. AP

CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan was one of a small pool of reporters present during Saddam Hussein's trial this week.

When you're covering the trial of Saddam Hussein you know your day is going to start very early and require an endless amount of patience but the fact that you are witnessing history somehow makes it all worthwhile.

Having reported from Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and then witnessed both the war and the chaotic bloodshed that has followed it, you can't help being intrigued by the man — and the place. And there's nothing quite like feasting your eyes on a person like that close-up and in the flesh, so you can finally see for yourself what he's made of.

Today Saddam entered the court a stronger man than he appeared at the opening of his trial. He was still thin and walking slowly, but with an arrogant swagger that was pure Saddam. I noticed the guards walking on either side left him to walk free, quite unlike the last time he entered the court when I watched him trying to wrestle his arm out of their grasp. And as the trial proceeded, with Saddam berating the judge all over again, it seemed like he really is having a hard time coming to terms with reality! You can't give the judge orders when you're the PRISONER — or maybe you can, since he seemed to get away with it for now.

He certainly manages to win the information war every time he forces the court to focus on him, rather than moving forward with the trial. It's a strategy his co-defendants seemed to have adopted successfully, interrupting the judge almost as often as Saddam. One after another they got up to complain — and the judge allowed it! He obviously wants the trial to be seen as fair, but it seemed more chaotic than ever.

The defendants, including Saddam, complained that documents sent to the judge had gone missing, and their lawyers complained they could not work together because security fears had virtually confined them to their homes. One defendant started weeping as he asked to see his son while another accused the judge of murder because he had not responded to a letter he sent asking for cancer treatment outside the prison where he was being held — the judge requested it be resent as he had not received it.

The judge is firm with Saddam but it seems like he needs to do much more to stay in control of this trial. There were so many interruptions from the defendants that it became something of a circus and had the feel of a deliberate strategy to slow the trial down. That's exactly what the Iraqi government and the many victims of Saddam Hussein do NOT want to see. Many people I speak to here don't understand why there is a trial at all – they just want to see Saddam dead and for them there's no question of guilt.

We get to file our stories from a grand marble room two floors below the court itself. There is a gold and crystal chandelier that spans most of the ceiling but little else in the way of decorations. When the court is in session, we rush up the stairs, only to be greeted by yet another security checkpoint at the entrance to the court. Here there is a giant Perspex cylinder that uses sound waves to check your body for metal objects. You have to step inside to the center and raise your arms in the air so they can scan you, before this disembodied 'voice of god' says: 'you're clear.'

I seem to move too much because they have to repeat the scan, with a long line of people waiting patiently in the line behind me. We must spend a good seven hours waiting, from the moment we arrive at the meeting point, through multiple security checkpoints and finally in the court building itself where there is much laughing and sharing amongst the reporters happy to be here to watch another chapter in Iraqi history.

You can't take anything with you — no food, no notebooks or pens or mobile phones or any of the usual comforts, so you have to rely on what is provided to you by American officials in charge of the press. For me, breakfast at 6AM just doesn't last until lunchtime and I'm ready to start eating people before the trial has even begun. But once you're inside, watching Saddam and trying to keep up with all the different defendants and all their lawyers and all the complaints…well, you just don't have time to think of anything else.

My favorite part has been observing Saddam, getting a sense of him. It's hard to find Iraqis who still support him unless you travel to his birthplace near Tikrit as I did during the recent constitutional referendum here. But that's to be expected. I remember what it was like for them, living in constant fear. The sad part is that Iraqis still live with fear — fear now of being blown-up or taken hostage or abducted from your bed in the middle of the night and murdered. Freedom can be hard to appreciate when the price you're paying for it is so high, many Iraqis tell me.

Saddam Hussein has lost his freedom but it was almost more satisfying when the last, enduring image you had of him was that disheveled man cowering in a spider hole…There's something about giving him a platform in this trial, that will make him forever the martyr on the Arab street, even beyond Iraq, that is a little less palatable. Saddam's antics could get very old, very soon, for the people who don't want to give him anything more than a slow and painful death.

By Lara Logan
  • Jessica Goldman

Comments