IMAGE: SADDAM RESPONDS TO COURT QUESTION
Aptn
Saddam Hussein responds to a question in an image taken from video released Monday by Iraq's special tribunal.
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/13/2005 8:40:54 PM ET 2005-06-14T00:40:54

The tribunal that will put Saddam Hussein on trial released a new video Monday of the former dictator being questioned by magistrates about the killing of 50 Iraqis in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt in 1982.

The video showed a bearded Saddam wearing a dark gray suit with pinstripes and white open-collared shirt being questioned by chief judge Raid Juhi. Four other members of Saddam’s administration also were shown in the video.

There was no audio, but the judge could be seen telling Saddam, “Answer the question, answer the question,” in the silent film.

The release of the interrogation tape — the first sight of the former president in a year — heightened the impression that the new, Shiite-led government is keen to put him on trial for his life before an election due in December.

Test case
An announcement that accompanied the tape said Saddam was being questioned about crimes related to the execution of at least 50 Iraqis in 1982 in the Shiite town of Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, in retaliation for the failed assassination attempt.

That alleged crime pales in comparison with some of the accusations against Saddam.

Many Iraqis have never even heard of the incident. Video: Saddam video released

But a government source told Reuters that prosecutors believe they can build a strong test case for Saddam’s personal role at Dujail, possibly based on testimony from a half-brother and the former vice-president, accelerating the trial process.

Proving any direct responsibility for genocide and crimes against humanity in broader cases, such as the suppression of Shiite and Kurdish uprisings, could take much longer — four years of proceedings against former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague have yet to reach a conclusion.

Iraqi government officials have said they would like to put Saddam on trial in the next few months. But the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which released the statement on the interrogation on Monday, has insisted it will not be rushed on a timetable.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s office declined comment.

Saddam appears in decline
The 68-year-old Saddam looked drawn and tired. It was the first time he has been seen in a video since his arraignment on July 1, 2004, in Baghdad on broad charges including killing rival politicians over 30 years, gassing Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988, invading Kuwait in 1990, and suppressing the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings.

Unlike that appearance, where Saddam was combative and tried to exhibit his authority, the tape shows a man who appears to a shadow of his former self. There are heavy bags under his eyes, he often clasps his hands and squeezes his fingers — clutching them together when apparently trying to make a point. His hair appears unkempt and his beard has more gray flecks running through it than a year ago.

In early June, Juhi said Saddam’s morale had collapsed because of the charges he faces.

In Amman, Saddam’s lawyer said his Jordan-based legal team was not aware he was questioned.

“Up to this moment, we have no information at all that the president had been questioned,” the lawyer, Ziad al-Khasawneh, told The Associated Press. “If it really happened, we consider this move a violation of his basic right to a lawyer during questioning.”

He added that “this shows the kind of justice which the president is expected to endure during the upcoming trial.”

Iraqi officials said last week Saddam could appear before a special tribunal within two months, but have since backtracked. Authorities have said he will face 14 thoroughly documented cases relating to alleged crimes committed during his 23-year rule. Many carry the death penalty.

Reviewing crimes against Kurds
The new video also depicted Hussein Rashid Mohammed, a former Republican Guard general, and Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, a senior Baath Party official and adviser on Kurdish affairs. They were questioned concerning the 1987-88 Anfal campaign, a depopulation plan in which hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed or expelled from northern Iraq.

The two other men shown were Barzan Abd al-Ghafur Sulayman Majid al-Tikriti and Muzahim Sa’b Hassan al-Tikriti. The first was a special Republican Guard commander and Saddam’s cousin who was captured on July 23, 2003. He was No. 11 on the American list of most-wanted Iraqis. The other headed Iraq’s air defenses under Saddam and was captured on April 23, 2003. He was 12th on the list.

They were questioned about the 1991 suppression of a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this article.

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