Subjected to cross-examination for the first time, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein admit-ted on Wednesday that he had signed an order of execution for 148 men and boys with only a cursory glance at the evidence.
The testimony appeared to bolster the case of the prosecution in a tumultuous six-month trial that has been plagued by assassinations, courtroom outbursts and political infighting, and that is still widely seen as illegitimate by international observers and human-rights advocates.
The chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Mousawi, is trying to establish that Saddam and seven co-defendants were responsible for the torture and executions of men and boys from the Shiite village of Dujail, where a small group of guerrillas tried to kill Saddam in 1982.
The victims were rounded up shortly after the assassination attempt and sent off to prisons, where they were eventually killed, the court charged.
The defendants are also charged with destroying the livelihood of the villagers by razing orchards near the site of the attack.
Shortly before a lunch break on Wednesday, al-Mousawi asked Saddam, the only defendant in the dock during the session, how he could have taken only two days to review the evidence before signing the execution order.
"That is the right of the head of the state," he replied, standing behind a lectern in a black suit, swiveling his head between the prosecutor and the chief judge, Raouf Abdel-Rahman.
Saddam said he had complied with any requirements in the Constitution mandating that he review the documents, "but it was not possible for me to read everything."
Al-Mousawi, dressed in a black robe with a ceremonial red sash around his neck, continued to press Saddam, presenting documents that were introduced earlier in the trial and asking him if indeed he had signed off on them, something that had been left unclear in earlier testimony.
Saddam's admission on Wednes-day that he had signed the execution orders and written some of the most damning remarks seemed to confirm the authenticity of the evidence.