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Saddam tells judges to ‘go to hell’

Hamza Hendawi Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Waving a finger and pounding his desk, Saddam Hussein told the judges in his trial to “go to hell” and vowed not to return to court today.

The outburst came at the end of a daylong session Tuesday in which a woman, speaking behind a beige curtain and with her voice disguised, told of beatings, torture and sexual humiliation at the hands of security agents when she was a teenager.

The ousted Iraqi president sat stone-faced and silent while she spoke. But after hours of testimony from the woman and another two witnesses, he exploded with anger.

Saddam, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt and clutching a Quran, complained that he and the seven other defendants were tired and had been deprived of opportunities to shower, have a change of clothes, exercise or go for a smoke.

“This is terrorism,” he declared.

Throughout the trial, which began Oct. 19, Saddam has repeatedly staged confrontations with the court and attempted to take control of the proceedings with dramatic rhetorical flourishes.

The defendants are charged in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982. Saddam accused Iran of ordering the attempt on his life.

Five witnesses – two women and three men – testified Tuesday in the fourth session of the trial, all of them hidden from the public view and with their voices disguised to protect their identities.

The most compelling testimony came from the woman identified only as “Witness A,” who was a 16-year-old girl at the time of the crackdown. Her voice breaking with emotion, she told the court of beatings and electric shocks by the former president’s agents.

“I was forced to take off my clothes, and he raised my legs up and tied my hands. He continued administering electric shocks and whipping me and telling me to speak,” Witness A said of Wadah al-Sheik, an Iraqi intelligence officer who died of cancer last month while in American custody.

The woman broke down several times as she struggled to maintain her composure. “God is great. Oh, my Lord!” she said, moaning.

Such treatment of a young woman is gravely offensive in traditional Arab culture, and Saddam was careful to avoid any insulting gesture in Tuesday’s session, which was televised in Iraq. On Monday, he had angrily challenged male witnesses, insulting them and suggesting one needed psychiatric treatment.

Witness A strongly suggested she had been raped, but did not say so outright. When Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin asked her about the “assault,” she said: “I was beaten up and tortured by electrical shocks” but repeated that she had been ordered to undress.

“They made me put my legs up. There were more than one of them, as if I were their banquet, maybe more than five people, all of them officers,” she said.

“Is that what happens to the virtuous woman that Saddam speaks about?” she wept, prompting the judge to advise her to stick to the facts.

She later quoted a security officer as telling her, “You should thank your God because you are here in the Intelligence Center. If you were in the directorate of security, no woman would remain a virgin.”

Nevertheless, she also said security guards raped many fellow female detainees.

When asked by the judge which of the defendants she wanted to accuse, Witness A identified Saddam. “When so many people are jailed and tortured, who makes such a decision?” she said.

By the end of the day, Saddam was back to his combative style.

“I will not return,” he shouted after the court decided to convene again Wednesday. “I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!”

Under Iraqi law, a court can force a defendant to attend a trial if he is not willing, said Iraqi lawyer Bassem al-Khalili.

But it was unclear whether the court would force the issue of Saddam’s attendance. The court has shown considerable deference to the former president, tolerating frequent outbursts in violation of local rules of procedure.

Measures taken to preserve the witnesses’ anonymity complicated the testimony. At first, defense attorneys complained they could not hear Witness A because of the voice distortion. The judge then ordered the voice modulator shut off.

However, the audience could not hear at all, so Amin ordered a recess, and the modulator was fixed, allowing all to hear.

Defense attorneys insisted on face-to-face questioning of Witness A and demanded that the defendants should also see her. So, after she gave her testimony for more than an hour, Amin ordered the session closed to the public, pulled screens in front of the press and visitors’ gallery, and cut the sound.

During direct testimony, Witness A said she was held and tortured at a detention facility in Baghdad before being taken to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside the capital. Later her family was taken to a desert facility outside the southern city of Samawah.

At the Baghdad facility, she said she was thrown into a room with red walls and ceiling inside an intelligence department building and that prisoners were given only bread and water to eat.

“After all this torture that we went through, would anybody still have an appetite to eat?” she said.

At Abu Ghraib, the guards stripped one of her male relatives, a deaf mute, and tied a rope to his genitals, pulling him into the cells where the women were kept, she said. Insects were everywhere – in cells and on their clothes, she said, adding that inmates used prison blankets to make underwear and fashioned shoes out of cardboard and strings.

She said one woman gave birth in the prison. “The baby got stuck between her legs. Another woman tried to help her, but the guards told her it was none of her business. The baby suffocated between her legs,” she said. She said her sister and sister-in-law also gave birth while in detention.

“I was freed at the end when I was 20,” she said. “All my friends became doctors and teachers, and I am now just a housewife.”

“Witness C,” a man, testified that he was taken by security forces along with his parents and sister. They spent 19 days at the intelligence headquarters and 11 months in Abu Ghraib, where his father died after being beaten on the head, he said. Then they spent three years in the desert.

“At the intelligence headquarters, they put two clips in my ears,” the witness said, adding he was told that if he lied, he would be given an electric shock. When he answered a question, the shock was administered, he said.

“In prison they used to bring men to the women’s room and ask them to bark like dogs,” he said. “My father died in prison and I was not able to see him.” He added that his father, who was 65 and had heart problems, was kept in a room about 50 yards from him.

“How come you remember all these things?” Saddam asked.

“This was a great sadness to me,” the witness replied, “and I can’t forget a sadness.”

The testimony prompted an outburst from Saddam, who complained of his own conditions in detention. He said the court had time to listen to the witnesses’ complaints “but does anyone ask Saddam Hussein whether he was tortured? Whether he was hit?”

He urged the judge to investigate his conditions because “it is your duty as judges to investigate the crime at its scene.”

“I live in an iron cage covered by a tent under American democratic rule. You should come see my cage,” he told Amin. “The Americans and the Zionists want to execute Saddam Hussein.”

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