Saddam trial resumes with hidden "Witness A"

  • World
  • Tuesday, 06 Dec 2005

By Luke Baker and Gideon Long

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The first woman to testify in the trial of Saddam Hussein broke down in tears on Tuesday as, in fear of her life, she testified behind a curtain about how she was forced to strip by Iraqi prison guards. 

Identified only as "Witness A", she said she was beaten with cables by Saddam's guards after being forced to strip, and was fed bread through a tiny window in a prison cell, which she shared with a young girl. 

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein listens during his trial held under tight security in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone December 6, 2005. (REUTERS/Stefan Zaklin/Pool)

The woman was held with hundreds of others rounded up after an attempt on Saddam's life in the village of Dujail in 1982. 

She said she had been moved from one prison to another over four years during Saddam's rule, and had spent a bitter winter at the Abu Ghraib jail in western Baghdad. 

From Abu Ghraib she was driven through the Iraqi desert to another jail. The witness said she saw camels by the side of the road during the journey. "I was envious because they were free," she said. 

A second witness, an elderly woman, told the heavily fortified Baghdad court that she had been taken away by Saddam's men along with her husband, five daughters and two sons. 

Saddam, accused of crimes against humanity and facing possible execution, sat largely impassively through the fourth hearing of his trial after a stormy session on Monday when he argued with judges and upbraided lawyers and witnesses. 

As he entered the court he greeted his co-defendants with the defiant phrase: "Good morning to all those who respect the law." He has said the trial is a "Made in America" sham and has repeatedly questioned the court's authority. 

The trial has rekindled painful memories for many Iraqis just a week before they vote for their first full-term parliament since Saddam's downfall. 

For many in the Shi'ite majority and among ethnic Kurds, oppressed by Saddam's Sunni Arab-dominated regime, the widely televised trial addresses a longing for vengeance not entirely satisfied by the power U.S.-backed democracy has brought them. 

But others, including minority Sunnis who feel threatened by a Shi'ite-led government they accuse of condoning death squads out for revenge, share Saddam's contention that the U.S.-funded court is staging a show trial. 

Tuesday's hearing, like the three previous sessions, was dogged by procedural and technical problems. 

Witness A began by speaking through a computerised voice modifier to protect her identity, but Saddam's defence team complained they could not hear the evidence and the trial judge was forced to order a recess which lasted 40 minutes. 

It was unclear from the woman's testimony when or where all the alleged incidents took place. The trial is centred on the killings of 148 men from the Shi'ite village of Dujail after an assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982. 

Witness A said that after being tortured, she had been thrown into a small red cell. 

"The light was red. It was all red. I had a girl with me -- Laila Jassim. We put shoes down as pillows, then the door was locked. From a small window, they gave us two loaves of bread. After all that torture, do you think we could eat?" 

She described being taken from there to Abu Ghraib. 

"I cannot describe what was there," she said. "In winter, the water was freezing ... We saw lice in our hair, everywhere. We had no shoes, we used to go barefoot. We would use cardboard and fashion a shoe out of it to go to the restroom." 

Tuesday's proceedings followed a lengthy and highly charged hearing on Monday where two witnesses, defying a man who still inspires fear in Iraq, gave emotional testimony of torture and crimes against humanity. 

The proceedings are being shown on delayed television broadcast and the witnesses openly faced their former president. One told of a meat grinder for human flesh and other horrors allegedly inflicted on people from Dujail. 

The defendants dismissed the evidence as lies and Saddam told the judge he was not afraid to die. 

Saddam's trial opened on Oct. 19 but was swiftly adjourned for 40 days to give the defence more time to prepare, and again last week to let two of his seven co-accused find new attorneys following the killing of a second defence lawyer last month. 

International rights groups have criticised the court for failing to protect defence lawyers and the U.N.'s human rights chief in Iraq says he sees little prospect of the trial meeting international standards. 

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