BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The trial of Saddam Hussein on charges of crimes against humanity resumed on Wednesday and heard some of the strongest evidence yet linking the former Iraqi president and his co-defendants to torture.
A witness told the court that Saddam's guards applied electric shocks to detainees at the headquarters of his feared intelligence service, heated up plastic tubing and allowed the hot plastic to drip on to the bodies of their victims.
"They would be in such pain as the plastic solidified on their bodies," the witness recalled. "A man would leave on his feet and and come back thrown in a blanket."
Saddam and seven co-defendants, including his feared former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, are standing trial in connection with the killing of 148 people from the mainly Shi'ite village of Dujail in the 1980s.
Prosecuters say Saddam ordered the killings in reprisal for a failed bid to assassinate him in the village in 1982.
Saddam boycotted the previous session of the trial on Dec. 7 after telling judges to "go to hell", but was back in the dock on Wednesday, listening intently inside the caged defendants' dock at the heavily fortified Baghdad courtroom.
At one point he asked the judge for a break in proceedings to pray. "A note from God," Saddam said. "The prayer time has passed. Let us pray and continue."
When the judged refused his request, Saddam swivelled in his black leather chair at the front of the dock, faced the witness and rocked slightly in his seat in apparent prayer.
STONGEST SO FAR
The testimony from the first witness was among the strongest heard so far in the stop-start and often chaotic trial, which started on Oct. 19 and has been adjourned three times. Ten prosecution witness have already testified, many giving sometimes rambling and imprecise accounts of hardships they suffered under Saddam.
Eight of them testified from behind a curtain out of fear for their lives and their names were withheld from the court, but witness 11, who gave his name as Ali Hassan al-Haidari, appeared openly and spoke calmly and coherently.
Dressed in a brown suit and white shirt, he said his brother was executed under Saddam, and recalled the Dujail massacre, when he was just 14, and the events of the years that followed.
He said he was taken to Saddam's Baath Party headquarters in Dujail, where he saw the corpses of nine people he knew, and then to the headquarters of Saddam's infamous Mukhabarat intelligence service in Baghdad.
He said he saw horrific torture there and, in a rare direct accusation against Barzan, said Barzan had been present in the building where the torture took place and had once kicked Haidari as he lay suffering from a fever.
"I was in pain for weeks because of that kick," he said.
Barzan, the most outspoken of Saddam's co-defendants, repeatedly interrupted the witness and called him "a dog". Court officials twice opened the gate of the defendants' dock and made as if to remove him before he calmed down.
Haidari was the first of five witnesses expected to testify on Wednesday. Kurdish judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin was then expected to adjourn the trial until mid to late January.
(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami, Mariam Karouny, Ahmed Rasheed and Deepa Babington)
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