Witness tells of torture by Saddam's men - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Witness tells of torture by Saddam's men

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Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2005 6:18 am | Updated: 8:54 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A woman testified Tuesday from behind a screen - her voice disguised but her weeping still apparent - that she was assaulted and tortured with beatings and electric shocks by Saddam Hussein's agents in the trial of the former president and seven lieutenants.

Saddam sat stone-faced, taking notes on a pad of paper, as the woman, known only as "Witness A," told the court how she and dozens of other families from the town of Dujail were arrested in a crackdown after a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam.

"I was forced to take off my clothes, and he raised my legs up and tied up my hands. He continued administering electric shocks and beating me," she said of Wadah al-Sheik, an Iraqi intelligence officer who died of cancer last month.

Several times, the woman - hidden behind a light blue curtain - broke down. "God is great. Oh, my Lord!" she moaned, her voice electronically deepened and distorted.

She strongly suggested she had been raped, but did not say so outright. When Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin asked her about the "assault," she said: "I was beaten up and tortured by electrical shocks."

The witness, who was 16 at the time of her arrest, repeated that she had been ordered to undress.

"I begged them, but they hit with their pistols," she said. "They made me put my legs up. There were five or more, and they treated me like a banquet."

"Is that what happens to the virtuous woman that Saddam speaks about?" she wept, prompting the judge to advise her to stick to the facts.

'Witness A' says that she and other women were kept in a cold, bug-infested room at Abu Ghraib prison. (Note: woman's voice was distorted)

When asked by the judge which of the defendants she wanted to accuse, "Witness A" identified Saddam. "When so many people are jailed and tortured, who takes such a decision?" she said.

She later quoted a security officer as telling her "you are lucky to be at the Mukhabarat (center) and remain a virgin." She also said that many fellow female detainees lost their virginity to security guards.

The measures taken to preserve the woman's anonymity complicated the testimony. At first, defense attorneys complained they could not hear her because of the voice distortion. The judge then ordered the voice modulator shut off, but then the audience could not hear at all, so Amin ordered a recess, and the modulator was fixed, allowing all to hear.

Defense attorneys insisted on questioning the witness face to face and demanded that the defendants should also see her. So after she gave her testimony for over an hour, Amin ordered the session closed to the public, pulling screens in front of the press and visitors gallery and cut the sound.

Later, a second woman took the stand, identified as "Witness B." She said she was 74 years old and recounted how her family was arrested in 1981 - a year before the Dujail incident.

Until that point in her testimony, her voice was modulated. But again, the judge decided it wasn't working properly. The system was turned off and all of the electronic feeds from the court room cut, including to the press gallery, before the witness could explain the relevance of a 1981 arrest.

Witnesses have the option of not having their identities revealed as a security measure to protect them against reprisals by Saddam loyalists. The first two witnesses - both men who took the stand Monday - allowed their names to be announced and their pictures to be transmitted around the world.

Saddam and the others are on trial for the killing of more than 140 Shiites in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad and could be executed by hanging if convicted. Monday's session was a stormy one, as Saddam repeatedly stood to challenge the judge and witnesses.

But on Tuesday, the ousted leader and his former officials were mostly silent, listening intently as "Witness A" spoke.

She described four years in Saddam's prisons after she and other families were swept up in Dujail following the shooting attack on Saddam's motorcade. She said she was held and tortured at a detention facility there before being taken to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Later they were taken to a desert facility outside the southern city of Samawah.

At the Dujail facility, she said she was thrown into a room with red walls and ceiling in an intelligence department building and that prisoners were given only bread and water to eat.

"I could not even eat because of the torture," she said.

At Abu Ghraib, the guards stripped one of her male relatives, a deaf mute, and tied a rope to his genitals, pulling him into the cells where the women were kept, she said. Insects were everywhere - in cells and on their clothes, she said, adding that inmates used prison blankets to make underwear and fashioned shoes out of cardboard and strings.

She said one of her relatives wanted to give birth in jail. "The baby was out. When some women tried to help her, the guards prevented them," and the baby died, she said.

"I was freed at the end when I was 20," she said. "All my friends became doctors and teachers, and I am now just a housewife."

The testimony at the trial is the first time the victims of the 1982 crackdown confronted the former leader and his lieutenants.

In Monday's session, a defiant Saddam sought to take control of the proceedings through boisterous outbursts, declaring at one point that "I am not afraid of execution" and denouncing the trial run according to "American rules."

Despite the sometimes chaotic atmosphere Monday, the trial's first witnesses offered chilling accounts of killings and torture using electric shocks and a grinder in the 1982 crackdown.

Ahmed Hassan Mohammed said he saw a machine that "looked like a grinder" with hair and blood on it in a secret police center in Baghdad where he and others were tortured for 70 days. He said detainees were kept in "Hall 63."

Mohammed recalled how security agents rounded up townspeople of all ages, from 14 to more than 70.

"There were mass arrests. Women and men. Even if a child was 1-day-old, they used to tell his parents, 'Bring him with you,'" Mohammed said.

The testimony drew an angry response from Saddam, who suggested that Mohammed needed psychiatric treatment and accused the court of bowing to American pressure.

"When the revolution of the heroic Iraq arrives, you will be held accountable," Saddam warned the chief judge.

"This is an insult to the court," Amin responded. "We are searching for the truth."

"How can a judge like yourself accept a situation like this?" Saddam asked. "This game must not continue. If you want Saddam Hussein's neck, you can have it. I have exercised my constitutional prerogatives after I had been the target of an armed attack.

When Mohammed objected to some of Saddam's remarks, the former president snapped: "Do not interrupt me, son."

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