Saddam 'torture' claims contradicted by judge

Iraqi officials repeatedly asked Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants if they had ever been beaten and they answered ’no’ every time, according to an investigative judge.

Iraqi officials repeatedly asked Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants if they had ever been beaten and they answered ’no’ every time, according to an investigative judge.

Contradicting the ousted leader’s claim that he was abused by American guards, Judge Raid Juhi yesterday said that a medical team would have investigated if Saddam or any of his seven co-defendants had complained of beatings or torture.

The comments came as Saddam’s often-theatrical trial began a month-long recess following two days of testimony about alleged torture and the deaths of more than 140 Iraqis after a 1982 attempt to kill Saddam in Dujail. The defendants could face death by hanging if convicted.

Like most sessions of the trial so far, yesterday’s had its share of drama. The defence team threatened to walk out and a prosecutor tried to resign, saying he had been insulted by defendant Barazan Ibrahim, the head of the Iraqi intelligence services in 1982.

A day earlier, Saddam told the court he had been beaten ”everywhere” on his body, insisting “the marks are still there.” He did not display any marks, but said it took some wounds eight months to heal.

Yesterday, Saddam said American denials that he was beaten could not be believed, noting that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq despite President Bush’s pre-war claims 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.”

But Juhi, who prepared the case against Saddam, said that neither the defendants nor their lawyers had ever complained about beatings. Officials also never saw signs of beatings, he said.

The court heard from six witnesses over the two days, including one yesterday who testified from behind the cover of a curtain, sounding as though he struggled to hold back tears while describing the scene at a desert camp where some of the Dujail families were held.

Another witness said six of his brothers had been executed and a seventh was killed in Dujail. A third said that his father, uncles and grandmother were taken away by security officials and tortured, and that all but his grandmother were never seen again.

Meanwhile, US President George Bush has authorised new cuts in US combat troops in Iraq, below the 138,000 level that prevailed for most of this year, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today.

Addressing US troops at this former insurgent stronghold, Rumsfeld did not reveal the exact size of the troop cut, but Pentagon officials have said it could be as much as 7,000 combat troops.

Two army brigades that had been scheduled for combat tours – one from Fort Riley, Kansas, the other now in Kuwait – will no longer deploy to Iraq. That will reduce the number of combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15.

“The effect of these adjustments will reduce forces in Iraq by the spring of 2006 below the current high of 160,000 during the (Iraqi) election period to below the 138,000 baseline that had existed before the most recent elections,” Rumsfeld said.

Further reductions will be considered “at some point in 2006,” after the new Iraqi government is in place and is prepared to discuss the future US military presence, said Rumsfeld.

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