At Chaotic Trial of Hussein, Iraqi Victims Tell of Torture
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
BAGHDAD, Dec. 5 -- The trial of Saddam Hussein, envisioned as a lesson in judicial fairness for a new Iraq, lurched ahead as a chaotic spectacle Monday, at times degenerating into a shouting match as the former dictator threatened to hijack the proceedings.
During the lengthy hearing, theatrical gestures and comments by Hussein, his attorneys and co-defendants nearly overshadowed dramatic testimony by victims of Hussein's government, including villagers who described seeing their close relatives tortured.
Hussein's co-defendants stood to hail him, and one spit at spectators in the courtroom. Hussein leapt from his seat to shout at the judge, wagging his finger. Censors cut off the television broadcast. Defense lawyers walked out as the trial judge struggled to try to control events.
At one point, Hussein and his half brother, Barazan Ibrahim, stood and saluted, shouting, "Long live Iraq!" -- providing a televised image of defiance to the Iraqi audience. Both men scorned the charges against them.
"I am not afraid of execution," Hussein boasted. Later he scoffed: "Do you want the neck of Saddam Hussein? You can have it."
Outside the trial, being held in a special courtroom built inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, there were growing signs of public discontent, including criticism in the press and demonstrations in the street.
Traffic was paralyzed Monday morning as Shiite Muslim university students marched in the streets, then listened to Abdul Aziz Hakim, the head of Iraq's largest political party.
"This criminal deserves the death penalty, the highest punishment," Hakim told the students. They chanted, "Execution, execution, we demand execution."
The turbulent proceedings included the first confrontation in open court between Hussein and some of his government's victims. Two men from the farming village of Dujail described the harsh collective punishment meted out to the village and its people after shots were fired on Hussein's car from a nearby orchard in 1982.
Hussein and seven co-defendants are charged with executing more than 140 villagers and imprisoning hundreds more after the assassination attempt.
"It was like a war front in Dujail," said the first witness, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed, who was 15 at the time. The government bombed the fields, shot some suspects and rounded up men, women and children, Mohammed said. He and others spent more than three years in prison.
At times choking back tears, Mohammed described how seven of his brothers were executed, and how they were all interrogated and tortured. One brother was tortured with electric shocks in front of his father, he said, sobbing.