Saddam Hussein again grabbed centre stage at his mass murder trial with claims that Americans beat and “tortured” him and other defendants while in detention.
The deposed leader’s lengthy complaint came yesterday after witnesses graphically described how their captors administered electric shocks and used molten plastic to rip the skin off prisoners in a crackdown following an assassination attempt against Saddam in 1982.
A US military spokesman in Baghdad called Saddam’s allegations “completely unfounded” but said “we are prepared to investigate.”
“Beyond that, we have no interest in being a part of what are clearly courtroom antics aimed at disrupting the legal process,” said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson.
The trial’s chief prosecutor, Jaafar al-Mousawi, said if authorities found evidence of abuse Saddam could be transferred to the physical custody of Iraqi troops.
The former Iraqi leader and seven co-defendants are on trial for the deaths of more than 140 Shiites after the attempt on Saddam’s life in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.
The prosecution’s first witness yesterday testified about killings and torture in Dujail. Ali Hassan Mohammed al-Haidari, who was 14 in 1982, said Saddam’s regime executed seven of his brothers.
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 “9 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. One of them, identified only as Witness No. 2, said security officials “attached clamps to my thumbs and toes and private areas and tortured me with electricity until foam came out of my mouth.”
After sitting quietly through several hours of testimony, Saddam launched into an extended monologue, saying he’d been beaten “everywhere on my body. The marks are still there.” He did not display any marks.
“I want to say here, yes, we have been beaten by the Americans and we have been tortured,” Saddam told the court before gesturing toward his seven co-defendants, ”one by one.”
With the trial televised across Iraq, his claims of torture at the hands of US troops may resonate with Iraqis who have been shocked by the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, a scandal which led to the convictions of nine US Army reservists. More recently, US troops discovered abused prisoners at secret detention centres run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
Saddam had been defiant and combative during previous sessions of the trial, often trying to dominate the courtroom. He and his half brother Barazan Ibrahim, who was head of the Iraqi intelligence during the Dujail crackdown, have used the procedures to protest their own conditions in detention.
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.