An investigative judge today said officials never saw evidence Saddam Hussein was beaten in US custody, while Saddam called Washington’s denials of abuse “lies”.
An assistant prosecutor asked to resign and the defence team threatened to walk out – a theatrical exchange becoming increasingly common at the trial.
The former Iraqi leader yesterday told the court that he’d been beaten “everywhere on my body. The markre still there.” He did not display any marks.
US officials strongly denied the allegations, calling the claims “completely unfounded”.
Saddam today said American denials couldn’t be believed, using as a rational the fact no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq despite pre-war claims by US President George Bush and other American officials that Saddam was harbouring such weapons.
“The White House lied when it said Iraq had chemical weapons,” Saddam said. “I reported all the wounds I got to three medical committees. ... We are not lying, the White house is lying.”
Saddam claimed the wounds he suffered from the alleged beatings had been documented by medical teams and that it took eight months for some of the wounds to heal. He didn’t say where or when he was allegedly beaten.
Investigative Judge Raid al-Juhi, who prepared the case against Saddam and forwarded it to the trial court in July, told reporters that neither the defendants nor their lawyers had ever complained about beatings. Officials never saw signs of beatings, he said.
“The defendants receive complete and very good health care by the authorities in charge of the detention. No ordinary Iraqi receives this kind of care,” he said.
Saddam 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 first witness to testify today – speaking from behind a curtain and with his voice disguised – said he was aged eight during the killings in Dujail. He said his grandmother, father and uncles had been arrested and tortured, and that he’d never again seen his male relatives, implying they’d been killed.
Saddam said the court should not depend on the testimony of witnesses who had not reached adulthood at the time of the alleged crime, and one of his defence attorneys underscored the fact the witness had been so young, getting him to admit he hadn’t been arrested and didn’t see any dead bodies.
Saddam’s half brother and co-defendant – Barazan Ibrahim, who was head of the Iraqi intelligence during the Dujail killings – had a heated exchange with prosecutors, accusing them of belonging to the Baath Party, Saddam’s former party, in an effort to discredit them in the eyes of Iraqis.
One assistant prosecutor threatened to resign over Ibrahim’s allegations, but the judge wouldn’t allow it. “The biggest insult I’ve gotten in my life was being accused of being a member of this bloody Baath Party,” the prosecutor said.
The judge at one point told Ibrahim to speed up his answer, and Ibrahim responded: “Don’t oppress me. I passed through this experience in the past. During the interrogation I used to be asked questions that need one hour to answer and they wanted a yes or no answer. When I used to answer he used to slap me in the face while my hands were tied from behind.”
Defence lawyers said one of the court guards then made threatening gestures toward Ibrahim, and said they’d walk out if the guard didn’t leave. The judge had the guard removed.
Witnesses yesterday 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.
Saddam then grabbed centre stage with claims that Americans beat and “tortured” him and other defendants while in detention.
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.
Saddam yesterday also interrupted witness testimony to ask the judge if the court could take a break for prayer. The judge ordered the trial to continue. About 10 minutes later, Saddam swung to the left, closed his eyes and repeatedly bowed his head in prayer, the first time he has done that in court.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day at specific times.
In the 1980s, Iraq under Saddam was one of the most secular Arab states in the Middle East and Baghdad had some of the most vibrant nightlife in the region.
Following Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and as UN-imposed sanctions ground down the Iraqi economy, Saddam outwardly became more pious. He was seen praying and launching campaigns to reinforce the faith. Bars were restricted and nightlife became more muted.
Critics said his praying in court was a further effort to reach out to increasingly conservative Iraqis.