Archive for Sunday, December 19, 2004

Photographer gets exclusive access in Iraq

December 19, 2004


Months after he was pulled from a hole in the village of Tikrit, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared in a makeshift courtroom near Baghdad.

He and 11 of his conspirators, like former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and Saddam's cousin, "Chemical Ali," who's thought to have gassed and killed 5,000 Kurds, were hauled before an Iraqi judge to hear charges against them, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Karen Ballard/Special to the Journal-World
Saddam Hussein, the former president of Iraq, finally surfaced last July when he entered a courthouse near Baghdad for his first hearing in connection with alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Saddam was handcuffed, in chains and escorted by two armed guards. Freelance photographer Karen Ballard was the lone news photographer inside the courthouse.

Aziz reportedly is ready to talk about corruption in Iraq's oil for food program that already has pointed to individuals in France, Russia and the United States.

Karen Ballard, a freelancer based in Washington, D.C., was the only news photographer permitted in the courtroom and one of only 35 Americans and Iraqis in the building. She, ABC's Peter Jennings, Christiane Amanpour of CNN, John Burns of the New York Times, television cameramen and a military photographer made up the small media pool.

"I first saw Saddam when he stepped out of an armored vehicle in handcuffs and chains, a far cry from the arrogant man we were used to seeing," Ballard said.

Upon entering the courthouse, he stopped inches from Ballard's camera lens.

"He glared, looking like he might spit on me," she said.

She had heard rumors that Saddam had not acted kindly toward his U.S. military captors.

The judge asked the prisoner's name and profession.

Karen Ballard/Special to the Journal-World
Obviously not enjoying his brief trip to the court room, Saddam Hussein looks away from the judge as charges against him are read. Saddam questioned and attempted to lecture the young cleric, who responded by saying he was elected by the people of Iraq.

"I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq," he replied. The judge came back confidently, "No, the former president of Iraq."

Ballard said, "Saddam went on a finger-wagging tirade trying to intimidate the magistrate who identified himself as 'a judge elected by the people of Iraq.'"

After charges against Saddam were read he was handcuffed, shackled and led from the building.

Each of the 11 defendants sat before the judge and heard charges.

"They cried, pleaded and professed their innocence," Ballard recalled, "literally begging for their lives."

She has photographed stories in Iraq on numerous occasions, both before and during the American occupation.

Karen Ballard/Special to the Journal-World
Tariq Aziz, deputy prime minister to Saddam Hussein, listens with fear in his eyes as he sits before an Iraqi judge during an arraignment procedure where he, along with 11 others, is facing charges of murder, torture and using chemical weapons under Saddam.

"Ironically, Saddam's capture was supposed to send a signal to tormented Iraqis that violence and chaos would soon come to an end," she said.

That was a year ago.

"Sadly, this hasn't happened and the insurgency has escalated," she said. "Iraqis can only hope, instead of longing for the old days under Saddam, that the new fledgling government will once again make the cradle of civilization peaceful."

Photographer goes far, wide for shots

Ballard, 35, has covered a lot of ground since she started shooting professionally 10 years ago. In 2000, the Louisville, Ky., native spent a month in Iraq as a staffer for the Washington Times, when Saddam Hussein was still in power. Since then, she's returned to Iraq five times.

She documented Gen. Tommy Franks' arrival in Baghdad that included a well-published picture of him lighting a cigar seated in Saddam Hussein's chair. On another trip she photographed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visit. She hasn't returned to Iraq since she made the Saddam court photographs last summer.

She's spent nearly two months in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

Ballard has worked as Vice President Dick Cheney's personal photographer.

In Washington she shoots politics, portraits, news and personalities.

Ballard's work appears in magazines ranging from Time, Paris Match, Stern and Newsweek to Readers Digest and Wired.

Her photographs of Saddam Hussein and his associates were published in magazines and newspapers worldwide.

When Ballard asked if the Journal-World would like to publish her courtroom coup of Saddam, we jumped at the chance.

You can learn more about Ballard on her Web site:

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