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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 10:34 GMT
Saddam turns accuser at his trial
By Quil Lawrence
BBC News, Baghdad

Saddam Hussein listened to hours of witness testimony charging him and his regime with crimes against humanity and then made some charges of his own.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein smiles during court proceedings against him and his co-defendants in the resumption of their trial December 21, 2005 in Baghdad, Iraq.
TV coverage was muted at points

After the judge warned him several times that he should limit himself to questions for the witnesses, Iraq's former leader raised his voice and claimed that he and his co-defendants had been the victims of torture.

"I have been hit by the Americans and tortured."

"I have been beaten on every place of my body and the signs are all over my body," he said.

The television coverage watched by Iraqis across the country was muted several times during the heated exchange between Saddam Hussein and the prosecution.

It was, apparently, an attempt to prevent the Iraq's former leader from upstaging the witnesses, who told of the torture and killing of 148 Shia villagers from the town of Dujail in 1982.

Iraqi officials said they would look into the charges of abuse, but the prosecution made light of Saddam Hussein's complaints about his treatment and living conditions, which one attorney said were better than those of many Iraqis.

Muted performance

The trial was held inside the heavily fortified US enclave in the centre of Baghdad.

This made a change from Saddam Hussein's behaviour in earlier sessions when he insulted the judge and denounced the court as illegitimate
Saddam Hussein appeared calm and well rested, and quietly took notes during the first session of the day, that lasted from just before 1200 until about 1500 local time.

During the first session Saddam Hussein addressed the judge only twice - first asking the court to recess at noon prayer time.

When the judge told him that the testimony would not be interrupted, Saddam Hussein turned away from the bench and quietly performed his prayers.

Later he spoke briefly, saying that because the judge was appointed to the bench before the Americans invaded Iraq, he was a legitimate judge.

This made a change from Saddam Hussein's behaviour in earlier sessions when he insulted the judge and denounced the court as illegitimate.

Emotional account

Security concerns have prompted many witnesses to speak from behind a curtain and with a device to disguise their voices.

But Wednesday's first witness, Ali Hassan Mohammed al-Haidari, stood in front of the court and accused the defendants directly.

Mr Haidari, who was 14 years old in 1982, described how helicopter gunships attacked the village of Dujail.

He said he and his family were taken away and that two of his brothers were killed.

Mr Haidari gave an emotional account of torture and neglect in Iraqi prisons.

He said prisoners were beaten, subjected to electric shock and that the guards melted plastic on to their skin.

He also said that Saddam Hussein's half brother and co-defendant Barzan Hassan al Tikriti had been present for the attack on Dujail.

The co-defendant spoke angrily during the cross-examination period, calling Mr Haidari and his murdered relatives "dogs."

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