"Saddam Hussein appears in Iraqi court facing charges of crimes against humanity.
Neatly dressed in a pinstripe suit and a white shirt, a defiant Saddam Hussein today refused to recognise the authority of an Iraqi court charging him with crimes against humanity.
"I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq," the calm and resolute former dictator replied when asked to identify himself to the court.
"This is all a theatre," he said, according to reporters attending the hearing. "The real criminal is [the US president George] Bush."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan immediately brushed off Saddam's remark.
"I'm sure Saddam Hussein will continue to say all sorts of things. What's important is that Saddam Hussein and his regime leaders are going to face justice from the Iraqi people before an Iraqi court," he said.
Saddam reportedly listened quietly as seven charges against him - including the 1990 invasion of Kuwait - were read out. He then condemned the proceedings as illegal, and refused to sign the list of charges.
Reports said he jabbed his finger in the air and insisted he had invaded Kuwait to protect the Iraqi people from these "dogs" - referring to the Kuwaitis. The judge immediately told him not to use such language in the court.
The other six preliminary charges against him are:
· Suppressing Kurdish and Shia uprisings, 1991
· Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign against Kurds, 1987-88
· Gassing Kurdish villagers in Halabja, 1988
· Killing political activists over 30 years
· Killing religious figures, 1974
· Killing thousands of the Kurdish Barzani clan, 1983
A video of the pre-recorded hearing was released, initially without the accompanying sound. The delay allowed Iraqi authorities to pixelate images of the legal teams in order to protect lawyers from possible revenge attacks.
Saddam's carefully trimmed "salt and pepper" beard and clear eyes presented an image completely different to the world's last glimpse of him, which came after he had been dragged from a hole in the ground by US forces in December.
The man who had commanded Iraq for 30 years arrived amid tight security at the tribunal on a US military base near Baghdad. He travelled to the courtroom in an armoured bus, which was escorted by four heavily-armed military Humvees and an ambulance.
He was then led into the building by two Iraqi prison guards and ushered through a door guarded by six Iraqi policemen. Reporters said he was handcuffed, but his feet were not shackled.
A legal process that could take years to complete began yesterday when Saddam and 11 other defendants - who include his former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, and "Chemical" Ali Hasan al-Majid - were transferred to Iraqi legal custody.
However, US forces will continue to hold the men for an as yet undetermined period of time. The legal formality means they will avoid the limbo of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and US-controlled prisons in Aghanistan.
No longer prisoners of war, they are criminal defendants whose treatment will be in accordance with Iraqi law.
The other 11 men were also flown in today to hear charges of genocide and crimes against humanity read out against them.
Formal indictments may not be ready for months, and the first trials are not expected to start before 2005.
Members of Saddam's 20-strong legal team protested that he had no legal representation at today's hearing. The lawyers, who were hired by Saddam's wife, Sajidah, watched his court appearance from offices in Amman.
"This is tyranny and absolute cruelty," Ziad al-Khasawneh said. "How can this be called a fair trial if President Saddam Hussein, may God bless him, was denied his basic right to a lawyer?"
Pre-trial negotiations to determine whether Saddam's foreign legal team will be permitted to work in Iraq are under way. The Iraqi president, Ghazi al-Yawer, told an Arab newspaper that Iraq's new government has decided to reinstate the death penalty, which was suspended during the US and British occupation.
Many Iraqis who suffered under the Saddam regime are keen to see him brought to public justice.
Kati Hamadi, a mother of three who lost her husband and brother to Saddam's henchmen during the 80s and 90s, told Reuters: "There must be a way to really make him suffer.
"Having an Iraqi trial is an excellent idea. It will expose his murderous past and let Iraqis know all the things he has to answer for. Iraqis need to hear that."