Hussein claims abuse

American captors have beaten and tortured him, he says at trial


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- After listening for hours to witnesses' accounts of torture at the hands of his government, Saddam Hussein said at his trial yesterday that he, too, has been the victim of prison abuse - by his American captors.

"I was beaten all over my body, and the marks are there," the former Iraqi dictator said, making a new bid to put the United States and its foreign policy on trial. "We were beaten by the Americans and tortured."

Hussein made his long statement near the close of the nine-hour court session, which included long stretches of testimony from witnesses about retribution they said was meted out after a 1982 assassination attempt on Hussein in the village of Dujail.

The proceedings were punctuated by testy exchanges and politically charged allegations. In the end, it seemed more like a noisy tribal summit, where squabbling Iraqis often take their differences to be resolved by a sheik, than an examination of the facts.

Abuse described

Prosecutors called three witnesses who described what became of villagers arrested en masse in 1982. They told of molten plastic used to burn prisoners and of children separated from their parents for years at a time. They described being fed gruel and being forced to drink hot, dirty water.

Rather than seeking to refute the allegations, Hussein, his attorneys and seven co-defendants attempted to counter the charges with attacks on witnesses and on the U.S. role. At one point, Hussein seemed to concede that people had been mistreated by his government, but in the next breath he redirected the focus to what he contended was his suffering.

"Any harm done to these witnesses is wrong, and whoever did it must be punished in accord with the law," Hussein said of the alleged victims in Dujail. "All that happened in a Third World country, as America says, and 25 years ago. But what is happening now, now, now, now? Ask any of my colleagues if they were not beaten nor have signs of beating."

Lead prosecutor Jaafar al-Mousawi, more outspoken and forceful in presenting his case than in previous sessions, said, "I visited you and saw an air conditioner in each room and ordered televisions for you. If you have complaints, I will investigate and bring to court anyone who mistreated you."

"You are going to punish the Americans?" Hussein responded. "But they are your bosses."

Other defendants and attorneys added their complaints.

Former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, recalling his first days as a prisoner of the Americans, said, "I drank from the ice water they poured on my body while I was half-naked. After 22 days they gave me a blue jumpsuit with no underwear. They brought me food I couldn't eat."

Barazan Ibrahim, Hussein's half-brother and intelligence chief, said six or seven of his fellow prisoners were killed by American soldiers.

The defense team also complained of maltreatment.

Threats alleged

"We were threatened at the airport and brought to a house without bathrooms," said Najib Nueimi, a former Qatari justice minister who is a defense adviser.

U.S. officials responded to the charges with scorn.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan called Hussein's allegations "preposterous." The former Iraqi president, he said, "is being treated the exact opposite of the way his regime treated those he imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing their opinions."

Many of the witnesses have offered little testimony directly linking any of the defendants to abuses. But yesterday's third witness said Ibrahim interrogated him when he was arrested after the 1982 assassination attempt.

Testifying from behind a curtain, he said he was taken to an intelligence office and ordered by unknown officials to confess he was a member of the Dawa Party, an outlawed Shiite Muslim group that opposed Hussein and had ties to Iran.

Much of yesterday's other testimony contained hearsay and contradictions.

Defense attorneys ripped into witnesses with hazy memories, demanding that they come up with names, dates and specific allegations, and suggesting that they were unintelligent rubes.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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