Hussein berates court

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.

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.”

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The U.S. military said a soldier assigned to Task Force Baghdad was killed when a patrol hit a roadside bomb on Sunday.

* U.S. and Iraqi troops began an anti-insurgent operation in Ramadi.

* French engineer Bernard Planche was abducted by gunmen on his way to work in Baghdad.

* The U.S. military says former Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, one of the top Hussein-era leaders captured in Iraq, died at a U.S. military hospital in Baghdad, apparently of cardiac arrest.

* Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said the training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big setback in the last six months, with forces increasingly used to settle scores and make political gains.

* Protesters in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit began tearing down election posters during a demonstration of support for the former ruler.

* Former Hussein deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is considering releasing a video to prove he is alive and controls the insurgency in Iraq, a Jordanian weekly said, claiming it interviewed him.

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 Hussein’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. Hussein 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.

Hussein 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,” Hussein proclaimed at one point. Later, the ex-president said, “If you want Saddam Hussein’s neck, you can have it.”

“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 Hussein’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, Hussein’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, Hussein’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.

Ibrahim 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 Hussein’s regime killed three of his brothers, one before the assassination attempt and two afterward.

Hussein’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.”

The testimony drew an angry response from Hussein, who suggested that Mohammed needed psychiatric treatment and accused the court of bowing to American pressure.

When Mohammed objected to some of Hussein’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 trial resumes today.

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