Kassim Bilasim received no court appearance. No hearing. No trial. For being a devout Shiite Muslim, he said, he was yanked from his home one morning, jabbed with electric prods, beaten with a club, hooked to electric wires and finally dumped into a fetid, crowded cell with 50 other men.
He looked at the television Thursday at the man who sent him there, Saddam Hussein. The former Iraqi dictator sat defiantly in a courtroom. Neat suit. Trimmed beard. White shirt. He was asked courteous questions and allowed to have his say.
Not bad treatment for a torturer, Bilasim concluded.
"We must do this to show we are a legal society," said the 35-year-old engineer, sitting in a friend's home in Baghdad. "But at the end, he should be executed. And then when his spirit rises from his body, the spirit should be strangled and executed again."
Bilasim conceded he was bitter as he watched scenes of Hussein in court, but no more so than thousands of others who suffered similar torture, or worse. Hussein's alleged crimes, read in court, embrace the sweep of Iraq's geography and population: the gassing of Kurds in the north, the invasion of Kuwait to the south, the persecution of political and religious opponents throughout the country.
Bilasim falls into that last category. The religion of the soft-spoken, somber man was the first strike against him. His second, he said, was to follow his beliefs to the Hawza, a renowned Shiite seminary in the holy city of Najaf.
"I disguised myself when I went from Najaf to Baghdad," Bilasim said. "But the intelligence agencies in Najaf found out who I was and told Baghdad."
Early one morning in 1998, secret police knocked on his door and dragged him away. The next 23 days were unbearable.
"His regime had experts at torture. They are really very good at it," Bilasim said.
They beat his knees, his back. They put electrical wires on his genitals. They stuck him with an electric prod, then forced him to try to sleep standing up before throwing him into a jammed cell.
When they released him, he swore he would not return to the Hawza. But secretly, he said, he slipped down to Najaf to take his final examinations. They never found out about that, he said. But his third strike was to join the followers of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, a revered Shiite leader who was assassinated in 1999, allegedly by Hussein's agents.
That year, the police returned and took Bilasim again. "I thought I would be in prison for a long time," he said.
The beatings, the electric torture, the cruelty were worse, he said. Psychological pressure was added: "They talked about my wife and how they would take her and what they would do with her," he said. "Then they talked about the rest of my family -- my father, my brothers. It was too much to bear."
The interrogators tried to recruit him to provide information about the Shiites, but Bilasim said he refused. When he was released again after 35 days, he stayed away from Najaf. He became a father of two girls. He worked faithfully at his job in a military engine factory.
When the U.S.-led invasion toppled Hussein last year, Bilasim vowed that "to give thanks to Allah, I would walk from Baghdad to Karbala," another Shiite holy city 50 miles southwest of the capital.
He did. It took two days.
"For 35 years, we suffered from oppression, and everyone in Iraq was hurt," he said. "Instead of going forward, we went backward under Saddam."
On the television screen, Bilasim watched Hussein stab his finger at the judge, watched the former dictator's indignation at the charge he did something wrong by invading Kuwait, watched Hussein dismiss the court as "theater." Bilasim scoffed. Justice is coming, he said.
"This trial is not just for me. It's for the suffering of all of the Iraqi people, " he said. "The Iraqis must see this man be tried to finally be freed from him."