Then the session proceeded without the ex-Iraqi president. Saddam's co-defendants and his lawyers were present in the courtroom when Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin convened the session at 3 p.m., about four hours late.
The judge, under pressure to appear fair but keep the trial moving, said the former dictator would be kept informed of what was happening in the courtroom, reports CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick.
The trial later adjourned until Dec. 21.
"The adjournment of the trial will give the judges the time to respond to written motions regarding the court's legitimacy and to address the issues of security," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk. "The delay will allow security forces to focus on the mid-December elections."
In other developments:
In all seven Western hostages have been taken captive in the past two weeks, including what appears to be another American, identified as Ronald Shulz.
Saddam will be told about the testimony of two witnesses Wednesday. Both were hidden behind a curtain around the witness box, their voices altered to protect their identities. They talked of being detained, beaten and tortured and imprisoned at Abu Ghraib prison, after an assassination attempt on Saddam in Dujail in 1982.
Saddam complained loudly Tuesday that he and his co-defendants were exhausted, and had no clean clothes to wear. He said he and the seven other co-defendants had been mistreated by the "unjust court," and that he would not return on Wednesday.
His half-brother and codefendant Barazan Ibrahim Wednesday continued the complaints about their treatment.
He said that here you have one of the richest countries in the world, but only after four months were they allowed cigarettes — and then they were some of the worst cigarettes.
The food was so bad that in two months, he lost 70kg. "No one can eat it," he said.
He said he spent 8-9 months in a 6- by 6-foot cell where he couldn't even lie down, with no windows, no electricity, no ventilation, no shower, and no running water.
"With or without Saddam Hussein in the courtroom, the witness testimony in international tribunals is the most electrifying and vital part of the prosecution," said Falk, "because it provides the evidence of the crimes, in this case, torture, rape, forced expulsion and crimes against humanity."
Throughout the trial, which began Oct. 19, Saddam has repeatedly staged confrontations with the court and attempted to take control of the proceedings with dramatic rhetorical flourishes.
"This is not a typical courtroom. This is a court with the eyes of the world are looking on it," international criminal attorney Mark Vlasic said on CBS News' The Early Show. "We can look to the [Yugoslavian president Slobodan] Milosevic case as an example of how dictators will act in such courtrooms.
"I think it's likely the court will allow [Saddam] to act this way for a while longer, but they'll probably reign him in," added Vlasic, who trained a number of Iraqi judges, including this trial's chief judge.
Some of Saddam's victims feel the former leader has managed to turn the court into a three-ring circus, or worse.
"It's a big Hollywood drama," said one.
"He thinks he is still the president," another told CBS News.
"I think it's once a dictator, always a dictator," agreed Vlasic. "He is used to running the show. I think it will be a while before he assumes the role of a true defendant and it's going to take some effort by the judges to rein him in and make this court more orderly."
Saddam and the others are charged in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982. Saddam accused Iran of ordering the attempt on his life.
The trial is very important to Iraq's future, Vlasic told said on Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen.
"This is a demonstration to the Iraqi people and to the rest of the world that Iraq is on its way to a society governed by world law," Vlasic said.