A woman testified today from behind a screen, her voice disguised but her weeping still apparent, that she was assaulted and tortured with beatings and electric shocks by Saddam Hussein’s agents.
In the trial of the former president and seven lieutenants, Saddam sat stone-faced, taking notes on a pad of paper, as the woman, known only as Witness A, told the court how she and dozens of other families from the town of Dujail were arrested in a crackdown after a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam.
Two other witnesses – a man and a woman – testified today, all of them with their identities concealed.
“I was forced to take off my clothes, and he raised my legs up and tied up my hands. He continued administering electric shocks and beating me,” Witness A said of Wadah al-Sheik, an Iraqi intelligence officer who died of cancer last month.
Several times, the woman – hidden behind a light blue curtain – broke down. “God is great. Oh, my Lord!” she moaned, her voice electronically deepened and distorted.
She strongly suggested she had been raped, but did not say so outright. When Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin asked her about the “assault”, she said: “I was beaten up and tortured by electrical shocks.”
The witness, who was 16 at the time of her arrest, repeated that she had been ordered to undress.
“I begged them, but they hit with their pistols,” she said. “They made me put my legs up. There were five or more, and they treated me like a banquet.”
“Is that what happens to the virtuous woman that Saddam speaks about?” she wept, prompting the judge to advise her to stick to the facts.
When asked by the judge which of the defendants she wanted to accuse, Witness A identified Saddam. “When so many people are jailed and tortured, who takes such a decision?” she said.
She later quoted a security officer as telling her: “You are lucky to be at the Mukhabarat (centre) and remain a virgin.” She also said that many fellow female detainees lost their virginity to security guards.
Saddam and the others are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad and could be executed by hanging if convicted.
The measures taken to preserve the first witness’s anonymity complicated the testimony. At first, defence lawyers complained they could not hear her because of the voice distortion.
The judge then ordered the voice modulator shut off, but then the audience could not hear at all, so Amin ordered a recess, and the modulator was fixed, allowing all to hear.
Defence lawyers insisted on questioning the witness face to face and demanded that the defendants should also see her.
So after she gave her testimony for over an hour, Amin ordered the session closed to the public, pulling screens in front of the press and visitors gallery and cut the sound.
Later, a second woman took the stand, identified as Witness B. She said she was 74 years old and recounted how her family was arrested in 1981 – a year before the Dujail incident.
Until that point in her testimony, her voice was modulated. But again, the judge decided it wasn’t working properly. The system was turned off and all of the electronic feeds from the court room cut, including to the press gallery, before the witness could explain the relevance of a 1981 arrest.
Witness C, a man, testified that he was taken by security forces along with his parents and two sisters who he described as infants.
They spent 19 days at the intelligence headquarters and 11 months in Abu Ghraib, where his father died after being beaten on the head. Then they spent three years in the desert.
“At the intelligence headquarters they put two clips in my ears and told me that if you lie you will be electrocuted,” he said. When he answered a question he was electrocuted.
“In prison they used to bring men to the women’s room and ask them to bark like dogs,” he said. “My father died in prison and I was not able to see him. He was in a room about 50 metres from me. He was 65 and he was suffering heart problems.”
That prompted a verbal outburst from Saddam, who complained of his own conditions in detention.
He said the court had time to listen to the witnesses’ complaints “but does anyone ask Saddam Hussein whether he was tortured? Whether he was hit?”
He urged the judge to investigate his conditions because “it is your duty as judges to investigate the crime at its scene”.
“I live in an iron cage covered by a tent under American democratic rule. You are supposed to come see my cage,” he said to the judge.
“Please, Mr Judge, do not accept any insult to Iraq. It doesn’t matter if he insults Saddam Hussein, because the Americans and the Zionists want to execute Saddam Hussein.
"What does the execution of Saddam Hussein matter? He has given himself to Iraq from the day he was at school and has been sentenced to death three times already.
"Saddam Hussein and his comrades are not afraid of execution.”
Witnesses have the option of not having their identities revealed as a security measure to protect them against reprisals by Saddam loyalists.
The first two witnesses – both men who took the stand yesterday – allowed their names to be announced and their pictures to be transmitted around the world.
Although Saddam confronted the male witnesses yesterday, he sat stone-faced as Witness A testified, describing four years in Saddam’s prisons after she and other families were swept up in Dujail following the shooting attack on Saddam’s motorcade.
She said she was held and tortured at a detention facility there before being taken to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Later they were taken to a desert facility outside the southern city of Samawah.
At the Dujail facility, she said she was thrown into a room with red walls and ceiling in an intelligence department building and that prisoners were given only bread and water to eat.
“I could not even eat because of the torture,” she said.
At Abu Ghraib, the guards stripped one of her male relatives, a deaf mute, and tied a rope to his genitals, pulling him into the cells where the women were kept, she said.
Insects were everywhere – in cells and on their clothes, she said, adding that inmates used prison blankets to make underwear and fashioned shoes out of cardboard and strings.
She said one of her relatives wanted to give birth in jail. “The baby was out. When some women tried to help her, the guards prevented them” and the baby died, she said.
“I was freed at the end when I was 20,” she said. “All my friends became doctors and teachers, and I am now just a housewife.”