There are as many theories on how to measure what is happening to Iraq as there are think tanks, political agendas, reporters, pundits and armchair generals. So perhaps the lead in news agency reports today summed it up best: a series of numbers.
With the exception of Saddam, who retains an air of arrogance, the others, dressed with only one exception in traditional robes and keffiyehs (headdresses), looked like elders from a peasant village. That such men could have inspired and maintained the depth of fear that they did to rule Iraq brought to mind Hannah Arendt's famous phrase from her writings on the trial of Adolph Eichmann: "the banality of evil."
None of it seemed to mean anything to Saddam. Standing before the judge, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt with no tie, he decried the legality of the court, and insisted he was "the president of Iraq," a claim the judge informed him was no longer valid.
To those watching, it was a moment of almost comic relief — one of a surprising number that can be found beneath the surface of this most serious and essential of procedures.
Quite apart from any such ideas from Saddam being non-starters, moving would be an impossible task. The courtroom has been especially constructed to accommodate the trial and keep it secure in what must surely be the most insecure "international zone" in the world. Ringed by blast barriers and barbed wire and with checkpoints at every entrance, the zone still has guard posts inside it and a manned tank on one street at least.
That said, every effort has been made to ensure that reports can be filed in some form from the venue. The press room is equipped with computer terminals with Internet access, phones that work on 800 numbers to the United States, and closed-circuit TV and translation audio for those who have to leave the press gallery to file. A search of the addresses logged onto on the computer I was using indicated that covering the trial can become tedious. In the middle of a list of news sites there was one for eBay.
However, dipping out of the trial forces you to run the risk of missing small but telling moments. When the first defense witness, who was kept anonymous behind a screen, began his testimony, he did so with a long list of plaudits for the defendant and his family. Pressed by the judge to stick to telling what he had seen, the witness said he had not been in the village of Dujayl on the day of what is referred to as "the events" took place. Logically, the judge asked him why he was a witness. The man indicated that he was not actually sure.
Certainly it is a far cry from the kind of courtroom drama as portrayed on prime-time TV shows in the United States, where invariably defense lawyers make at least one leap towards the bench shouting "objection" when hearsay evidence is offered. But then, in this trial the judge would not be growling "sustained," since he was the one asking the questions and encouraging a witness who said he did not see anything to tell the court what he heard.
The court appears to be going out of its way to err on the side of even-handedness, granting far more leniency to interjections and arguments from lawyers and even defendants than would seem normal, although the judge does not allow anything to get too far out of hand.
But don't count on that happening being any time soon. The hope when the procedure began was that the court would sit up to four times a week. This was only its 24th session in almost seven months — and the defense has just begun to put its case.