Grinders and electric shocks: witness testimony begins in Saddam trial |

Grinders and electric shocks: witness testimony begins in Saddam trial

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The first witnesses in the Saddam Hussein trial offered chilling accounts Monday of killings and torture using electric shocks and a grinder during a 1982 crackdown against Shiites, as the defiant ex-president threatened the judge and tried to intimidate a survivor.One witness said he saw a machine that “looked like a grinder” with hair and blood on it in a secret police center in Baghdad where he and others were tortured for 70 days. He said detainees were kept in “Hall 63.”But defense lawyers questioned the reliability of witnesses who were only 15 and 10 at the time and walked out of the tumultuous session when the judge refused to allow former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark to address the court on Saddam’s behalf. They returned after the judge relented.Throughout the daylong session, Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin struggled to maintain order among boisterous defense outbursts. Saddam and his co-defendant and half brother, Barazan Ibrahim, gestured and shouted together, “Long live Iraq!””Everyone must remain calm and be civil,” Amin said repeatedly.Saddam and his seven co-defendants could be hanged if convicted on charges stemming from the deaths of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt in 1982.”I am not afraid of execution,” Saddam proclaimed at one point.”Why don’t you just execute us and get rid of all of this,” Ibrahim shouted at the judge.The trial’s first witness, Ahmed Hassan Mohammed, delivered a rambling, nearly two-hour account of the events in Dujail in retaliation for an armed attack on Saddam’s convoy.Mohammed recalled how security agents rounded up townspeople of all ages, from 14 to more than 70.”There were mass arrests. Women and men. Even if a child was 1-day-old, they used to tell his parents, ‘Bring him with you,”‘ Mohammed said.He said the agents took him and the others to the intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, where they were tortured before being transferred to Abu Ghraib prison.Mohammed said his brother, who was at 17 at the time, was tortured while his 77-year-old father watched. Interrogators threatened to rape the prisoners’ daughters and sisters if the men did not sign confessions, he said.”Some men just said ‘I will sign anything but leave my sisters alone,”‘ he said.Mohammed, who was 15 at the time, said he himself was tortured. “They blindfolded me, but I was so young, it kept falling.” At the Baghdad detention center, he saw “a machine that looked like a grinder and had some blood and hair” on it, and “I saw bodies of people from Dujail.”The witness exchanged insults with Ibrahim, Saddam’s half brother, telling him “you killed a 14-year-old boy.””Go to hell,” replied Ibrahim, who was intelligence chief at the time.”You and your children go to hell,” the witness replied.The judge then asked them to avoid such exchanges.As the testimony continued, Saddam’s lawyers objected that someone in the visitors’ gallery was making threatening gestures and should be removed. Ibrahim leaped to his feet, spat in the direction of the gallery, and shouted, “These are criminals.”The judge ordered the person removed from the gallery.Mohammed, fighting back tears, described how there had been “random arrests in the streets, all the forces of the (Baath) party, and Thursday became ‘Judgment Day’ and Dujail has become a battle front.””Shootings started and nobody could leave or enter Dujail. At night, intelligence agents arrived headed by Barazan” Ibrahim, he said.Ibrahim interrupted him: “I am a patriot and I was the head of the intelligence service of Iraq.”But Ibrahim also contested Mohammed’s testimony, insisting there was no “Hall 63″ and no place in the intelligence building large enough to accommodate as many prisoners as the witness said were there.The second witness, Jawad Abdul-Aziz Jawad, who was only 10 when the assassination attempt occurred, testified that Iraqi helicopters attacked the town and used bulldozers to destroy the fields and orchards.Jawad said Saddam’s regime killed three of his brothers, one before the assassination attempt and two afterward.Saddam’s chief attorney, Khalil al-Dulaimi challenged the testimony, asking how a 10-year-old could remember such details.”A 3-year-old child remembers a lot,” Jawad replied. “An elementary school student does not forget if a teacher slapped him in the face. I live a catastrophe.”Earlier, Mohammed said he was told that Saddam asked a 15-year-old boy if he knew who he was. “He said ‘Saddam’. Then Saddam hit him in the head with an ash tray.”The testimony drew an angry response from Saddam, who suggested that Mohammed needed psychiatric treatment and accused the court of bowing to American pressure.”When the revolution of the heroic Iraq arrives, you will be held accountable,” Saddam warned the chief judge.”This is an insult to the court,” Amin responded. “We are searching for the truth.”Saddam told Amin he hoped “that you will endure my frankness.””How can a judge like yourself accept a situation like this?” Saddam asked. “This game must not continue. If you want Saddam Hussein’s neck, you can have it. I have exercised my constitutional prerogatives after I had been the target of an armed attack.When Mohammed objected to some of Saddam’s remarks, the former president snapped: “Do not interrupt me, son.””If it’s ever established that Saddam Hussein laid a hand on any Iraqi, then everything that witness said is correct,” he said.The hearing – only the third since the trial began Oct. 19 – began with the defense challenging the court’s legal basis as well as security guarantees following the assassination of two of its members.Clark tried to address the court on these issues, but Amin ruled that only Saddam’s chief attorney, al-Dulaimi, could speak. That prompted the defense team to walk out despite a warning from the chief judge that he would appoint replacement attorneys.”You are imposing lawyers on us,” Saddam shouted, gesturing with one arm and cradling a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in the other. “They are imposed lawyers. The court is imposed by itself. We reject that.”When the judge explained that he was ruling in accordance with the law, Saddam snapped: “This is a law made by America and does not reflect Iraqi sovereignty.”After the walkout and a 90-minute recess to resolve the issue, the court reconvened and Amin allowed Clark and former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nueimi to speak on the questions of the legitimacy of the tribunal and safety of the lawyers. The trial later adjourned until Tuesday.Saddam’s repeated outbursts found a receptive audience among some Sunni Arabs who watched on television. His defiance tapped into their resentment of the new order in Iraq, in which their once-ruling minority community is now dominated by the Shiite Muslim majority and the Kurds.Jinan Mushrif, a 49-year-old Baghdad housewife, said she got chills of pride when she saw Saddam and Ibrahim stand in the courtroom and chant, “Long live Iraq, long live the Arab state!””These are the real men of Iraq, not those who hide behind their bodyguards,” Mushrif said with a laugh.But not all were impressed. Qassem Abdul Razzaq, a 66-year-old lawyer, said the chief judge, a Kurd, was not firm enough in preventing Saddam’s outbursts.The judge “is trying to be more just than justice itself. He should be putting some restrictions for the defendants and their team,” Razzaq said, adding that the session only boosted Saddam’s morale. “He is stronger and even looked healthier.”

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