Saddam claims he was tortured in captivity

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The Independent Online

Saddam Hussein yesterday tried to turn the tables on his US captors by claiming at his trial that he had been tortured while in detention.

"Yes I have been beaten, everywhere on my body. The marks are still there," Saddam told the court in an outburst which capped the trial's most dramatic day of testimony so far. "I want to say here, yes, we have been beaten by the Americans and we have been tortured," he went on, gesturing to his co-defendants.

Saddam spoke out as he made his first court appearance in two weeks, during which he heard his half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim -Tikriti, being personally implicated in killings and acts of torture. The deposed Iraqi dictator had earlier listened quietly and taken notes as a hidden witness described how Saddam's guards had peeled off the skin of prisoners after dripping molten plastic onto detainees. Another told the court how Tikriti, the former intelligence chief, had eaten grapes while watching him being tortured.

After denying the witness claims, Saddam launched into an exchange with the prosecution to denounce his prison conditions. The chief prosecutor, Jaagar al-Mousawi, ridiculed his claim that the Americans had tortured him, saying that the former Iraqi leader was being held in a cell which enjoyed air-conditioning when most of Baghdad had no power. A US embassy spokesman rejected Saddam's accusation as "absolutely bogus".

Mr Mousawi said that if the US-led force had tortured Saddam, he would be transferred into the custody of Iraqi troops. A second of the seven co-defendants, who are charged with crimes against humanity, also said he had been beaten by his US captors.

Saddam is being tried for the killing of 148 people in the Shia village of Dujail in 1982 after an attempt to assassinate him. He and the co-accused deny responsibility for the deaths.

The first witness yesterday, Ali Hassan Mohammed al-Haidari, testified that, when aged 14, he and members of his family from Dujail had been taken to Baghdad and thrown into jail with people aged "from 9 to 90". "I cannot express l that suffering and pain we faced in the 70 days inside," he said, as he described how prisoners would return from torture sessions "dripping with blood". Guards administered electric shocks, or dripped melted plastic on to prisoners, pulling off the skin as it cooled, he said.

Mr Haidari said seven of his brothers were executed by Saddam's regime. Their bodies have not been found. "I saw my brother being tortured in front of my eyes."

A second witness, who testified behind a curtain, said Saddam's half brother was present when he was tortured in Baghdad. "During the interrogation they'd torture me, and Barzan was there eating grapes."

"I was screaming. I'm an old man. He was there."

Al-Tikriti became agitated after the testimony, shouting that he was a politician not a criminal. He raised a hand and said: "My hand is clean."

Saddam himself had boycotted the last session of the court on 7 December, refusing to attend what he called an "unjust court".

The current phase of the trial is winding up as Saddam's fellow Sunni Muslims threaten to boycott the new parliament over claims of fraud in last week's elections. Early results show that the ruling Shia alliance will remain dominant and possibly retain an absolute majority in parliament.

The Electoral Commission has rejected calls for a rerun of the vote, saying the complaints were unlikely to affect the overall result.

The former-British envoy to Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, said last night that in his view, the insurgency "has got at least five years of life, because there are men and there are materials, there's motivation there from the Sunni insurgents, the left-over Baathists, the Saddamists and from the foreign jihadists, the al-Qaida franchise."

Speaking on Sky News World News Tonight, Sir Jeremy dampened expectations of a drawdown by US and British forces in the new year.

"It may be some years before the last coalition soldiers leave Iraq," he said.

After today's session, the trial is expected to adjourn until next month.

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