Saddam claims Americans beat him in detention

Saddam Hussein accused his American captors of torturing him, claiming at his trial today that he had been beaten “everywhere on my body.” A Shiite witness testified that the former Iraqi leader’s agents had tortured people by ripping off their skin.

Saddam Hussein accused his American captors of torturing him, claiming at his trial today that he had been beaten “everywhere on my body.” A Shiite witness testified that the former Iraqi leader’s agents had tortured people by ripping off their skin.

The trial’s chief prosecutor said that if American-led multi-national forces had abused Saddam, he would be transferred into the custody of Iraqi troops. The prosecutor, Jaafar al-Mousawi, said he would investigate.

“I want to say here, yes, we have been beaten by the Americans and we have been tortured,” Saddam responded, before gesturing towards his seven co-defendants, “one by one.”

Launching into an extended outburst after sitting quietly through several hours of testimony, Saddam said he’d been beaten “everywhere on my body. The marks are still there.”

During the outburst, Saddam stood in the fenced-in defendant’s area and occasionally jabbed his finger towards the judge and prosecutor. He refuted witness statements and complained at length about the conditions of his detention, engaging in a debate with al-Mousawi. Some of the exchange was edited out of the televised feed.

Saddam also told the court that he knew the name of the person who betrayed his hiding place when US forces found him in December 2003. A co-defendant, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president, said an American translator of Arab origin used to smuggle him tea and bread.

After a recess, Saddam again calmly sat in his defendant’s chair, fanning his face with a sheet of paper.

Earlier, Saddam sat quietly as a witness testified that his regime killed and tortured people by administering electric shocks and ripping off their skin after pouring molten plastic on it.

Two weeks ago, Saddam had called the court “unjust” and did not appear at a session.

Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial in the deaths of more than 140 Shiites following a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

The prosecution’s first witness today was a man who testified about killings and torture in Dujail following the assassination attempt. Ali Hassan Mohammed al-Haidari, who was 14 in 1982, started off by quoting from the Koran, the Islamic holy book, about how evil would be defeated.

The judge, in an apparent early bid to take control of a courtroom that has often been unruly, told the witness to address the court and not Saddam directly.

Al-Haidari, whose brother was the first witness at Saddam’s trial, testified that seven of his brothers were executed by Saddam’s regime and their bodies have not been found.

Al-Haidari said that he and other residents from Dujail – including family members – were taken to Baghdad and thrown into a security services prison, where people from “nine to 90” were held.

Blood poured from head wounds and skin was pale from electric shocks, he testified. Security officials would drip melted plastic hoses on detainees, only to pull it off after it cooled, tearing skin off with it, he said.

“I cannot express all that suffering and pain we faced in the 70 days inside,” he said.

Two witnesses later testified from behind a curtain.

Like his outburst today, Saddam has been defiant and combative during previous sessions, often trying to dominate the courtroom. He and his half brother - Barazan Ibrahim, who was head of the Iraqi intelligence during the Dujail incident – have used the procedures to protest their own conditions in detention.

The deposed president had refused to attend the previous session on December 7. “I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!” he said in an outburst in court the day before.

For much of today, his behaviour was calmer, and he appeared clean-shaven and in fresh clothes, wearing a dark suit but no tie. Previously during the trial, Saddam has appeared dishevelled and has complained about being held in unsanitary conditions.

After greeting the court with a traditional “Peace be upon you” at the session’s opening, he sat quietly in the defendants’ area and appeared to pay close attention to the proceedings, at times taking notes.

Later on, Saddam, interrupting al-Haidari, asked the judge if the court could take a break for prayer. Though the witness agreed, the judge ordered the trial to continue. About 10 minutes later, Saddam swung his chair to the left, closed his eyes and repeatedly bowed his head in what appeared to be about a minute-long prayer, the first time he has done that in court.

Muslims are required to pray five days a day at specific times.

At another point when al-Haidari referred to Saddam by name, the former leader interrupted, saying “Saddam who?” implying the proper respect hadn’t been shown. The judge asked the witness whom he meant, and the witness restated: “I mean the former Iraqi president.”

The trial was also marked by an outburst from Saddam’s half brother. In an exchange that was largely edited out of the televised feed, Ibrahim called al-Haidari “a dog” and his dead brothers “rotten dogs.” Guards entered the court and threatened to take him out, but Ibrahim wagged his finger at them, saying he could only be ordered to leave by the judge, who allowed him to stay.

It was Saddam’s first court appearance following last week’s election, when Iraqis swarmed to the polls to vote for the country’s first full-term parliament since his downfall.

The court – which held its first session on October 19 – has now heard from 12 witnesses, who often gave emotional testimonies of random arrests, hunger and beatings while in custody and torture in detention.

Khamis al-Ubeidi, a lawyer on Saddam’s defence team, argued that the “witnesses have no legal value. Their testimonies are based on coaching and unjustified narrative.”

He said the defence team had security concerns that it wanted to tell the court about.

“The court has to provide the lawyers and the defence witnesses with security,” he said yesterday. “How can a lawyer work if he cannot move freely because of the security situation?”

Some Iraqi government officials have said they hope the trial of Saddam will help heal the wounds of his regime’s victims and bring Iraqis closer together.

But the trial has also highlighted divisions between Iraq’s various ethnic and sectarian groups, with many Sunni Arabs expressing sympathy with the former president and even nostalgia for his era.

By contrast, many Shiites and Kurds gloated over seeing the once powerful Saddam reduced to a defendant.

The Dujail case is the first of up to a dozen that prosecutors plan to bring against Saddam and his Baath Party inner circle for atrocities during their 23-year rule.

The trial is taking place in the five-story marble building that once served as the party’s National Command Headquarters.

The building in Baghdad’s Green Zone – the heavily fortified district where Iraq’s government, parliament and the US Embassy are located – was heavily guarded.

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.

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