Just moments after the session began, Saddam stood up and asked to leave. The presiding judge refused, and Saddam replied by pulling a piece of paper out of his Koran and reading a 15-minute speech. After a heated exchange, Judge Mohammad al-Ubeidy had him sent back to his cot.
The scene was similar on Monday when I sat in the press gallery and watched Saddam arrive in his natty dark suit with a silk pocket square, his improbably black hair and greying beard neatly trimmed. He sat quietly with his Koran in his lap for the first two hours, as his newly appointed lawyers offered an ad hoc defense. His co-defendants had already interrupted the proceedings to say they object to the attorneys brought in after the entire defense team boycotted the removal of the previous judge last week, but Saddam stayed mum. That is until the judge admonished his former military intelligence chief for using one of the old military titles of lieutenant general to describe Sultan Hashim, the commander who led the 1988 scorched-earth campaign that killed 182,000 Kurds.
"Don't mention his title," said the judge. "None of you have a title or rank now."
That got Saddam's attention. He raised his hand and started to speak, but before he could even get a word out, the new presiding judge told him to keep quiet. But Saddam was already on a tirade. He waved a folded yellow paper in his hand, saying it was a written request asking the court to allow him to skip the rest of the trial as long as acting head judge Mohammad al-Ubeidy was presiding.
"I have a request here that I don't want to be in this cage anymore. It's dishonorable," said Saddam. But Judge Mohammad wouldn't accept his petition. " I'm the presiding judge. I decide about your presence here. Get him out!" Saddam then headed toward the door muttering, "It's a dishonor to look at your face."
Once he was out, the judge said he was surprised that Saddam, who claims to have a Ph.D. in law, has so little understanding of the rules of the court.