BAGHDAD, IRAQ, OCT. 23 -- Foreigners held as human shields at an Iraqi armaments factory rioted against mistreatment by sadistic guards and a starvation diet, one of the men said today just before flying to freedom from Baghdad.

"We tore down fences, broke all the windows and daubed anti-Saddam slogans on the walls," said Briton Jim Thomson, referring to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Thomson, 50, who was freed with compatriots for health reasons, said that the riot broke out Sept. 29 and that guards forced the 15 detainees into their rooms at gunpoint after the protest. No shots were fired and no one was injured.

"We had sadistic guards who would punch the hostages just for the sake of it, although I was never hit myself," he said.

The detainees at the site were fed only rice and stale bread, which they had to soften in water, Thomson said. The rioters were American, British, Japanese, German and French.

"We were actually chanting 'Down, down Saddam' to Iraqi workers. They thought we were here as volunteers for peace," Thomson said.

He said he was moved to what he believes was an atomic research center two days after the protest. He said a French protester was taken before an Iraqi tribunal and sent into solitary confinement.

Detained in Kuwait on Aug. 26, Thomson said he was moved to the armaments factory in late September after first being held at what he believes was a chemicals plant about 20 miles from Baghdad.

Thomson, who worked in Kuwait as general manager of a British engineering company until the Iraqi invasion Aug. 2, said the presumed atomic research center was about half-an-hour's drive south of Baghdad. It was heavily guarded with radar and antiaircraft batteries.

"We were not allowed to see anything, but we thought it was atomic because we could see crates with the words 'International Atomic Energy Agency' stamped on them.

He was released with 32 other Britons today and allowed to join a special flight to Britain with former prime minister Edward Heath.

Thomson said the general feeling among Westerners held at Iraqi installations was that military action had to be taken against Iraq.

"They {the detainees} are not frightened, they just want some action. In general, the opinion of the hostages is, 'Let it happen.' "