At Large

Skinny Saddam in Black and White

The trial's shaky opening in Baghdad.

By 10.20.05

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BAGHDAD -- Right on the dot at noon, the trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants made an abortive attempt to get underway. But nothing seemed to work, particularly the sound system. This was astounding given that the authorities have had so much time to get all these details straightened out. Eventually, they got most things working, but not very well. The quality of the sound was never better than mediocre, and the televised picture kept going black from time to time.

The defendants were brought in one by one. All of them looked like they've spent a lot of time on a forced diet, since they have lost so much weight. Saddam, in particular, seems to have aged ten or fifteen years, particularly in profile. When he got into a scuffle with his guards, I thought the chief judge lost several opportunities to take control of the trial. Perhaps he will turn into a latter-day Judge Lance Ito of O.J. fame.

Since the U.S. media were present in force, I'll just mention a couple of things to which I was witness and which they probably were not focused on. The streets of Baghdad became absolutely deserted about a quarter of an hour before the trial started. It was if Baghdad were witness to the World Cup Final, the Seventh Game of the World Series, and the O.J. Verdict all at the same time. If the powers that be in Baghdad want a formula for bringing peace to the city, they should plan on conducting a lengthy trial and provide radio and TV coverage from sunrise to sunset. Everywhere in Baghdad, people were either riveted to their transistor radios or huddled around small black and white TV sets. The only sound was the occasional shout as Saddam was perceived to be saying something particularly outrageous. This was not a pro-Saddam crowd, and all of them devoutly wish that he will hang.

One surprise to many in the audience was that the identity of the chief judge was made so readily apparent. I happened to be watching in my company's Marble House headquarters, and I was seated next to an Iraqi colleague whom I know very well. He told me, much to my surprise and amazement, that his father is one of the five judges. He is dreading the possibility that the camera will at some point, even unintentionally, pan over to his dad. I asked him what the implications might be. He said that once his father's identity has been revealed, the life of everyone in the family will instantly be in danger. In fact, Mohammed said, he would immediately implement his plan to flee the country, leaving directly from the office. He then took me downstairs and showed me his "escape gear," a small backpack with the bare essentials for surviving a day or two. And, as is normally the case with every Iraqi male, a 9 mm pistol and three fully loaded clips of ammunition.

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