Nobody in Saddam Hussein’s inner circle was more tirelessly reverential towards Iraq’s former ruler while he was still in power than Tariq Aziz, the onetime deputy prime minister, so much so that one former aide to Mr. Aziz claimed after Mr. Hussein’s overthrow that he used to salute the telephone when calls from Mr. Hussein came in.
Go to Complete Coverage So there was little surprise today when Mr. Aziz became the first senior member of the old ruling elite to testify for Mr. Hussein at his trial on charges of crimes against humanity. Nor did the 70-year-old Mr. Aziz, once Mr. Hussein’s chief mouthpiece and now an American prisoner, disappoint with an hour of relentless defense and praise of his old boss that kept Mr. Hussein smiling genially from the dock.
Mr. Hussein, 69, is charged with directing the persecution of the people of Dujail, 35 miles of Baghdad, after a foiled assassination attempt on him there in July 1982. Among the particulars of the indictment are that Mr. Hussein’s secret police arrested hundreds of men, women and children, tortured dozens to death, banished more than 300 others to years of exile in the desert, ordered a vast acreage of date palm groves in the town plowed under, and that Mr. Hussein personally signed the execution orders for 148 people, including 32 who were under 18 at the time.
Appearing in what appeared to be an open-necked hospital gown, with a patient’s plastic identification tag on his wrist, and looking frail, Mr. Aziz offered as worshipful a eulogy for Mr. Hussein as any he offered during his years as the former ruler’s traveling emissary.
The former Iraqi leader, Mr. Aziz said, had done no more than any president would have done after an attempt to kill him, and, as “a man of the law,” Mr. Hussein had acted with admirable restraint. He was “a brave man, a generous man, who loved his people so much” and had committed “no legal or humanitarian errors” over events at Dujail, he said.