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As First Witnesses Take Stand, Hussein...s Trial Turns Chaotic

By Robert F. Worth
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

The first witnesses took the stand on Monday in Saddam Hussein’s trial, offering gripping accounts of meat grinders for human flesh, torture with fire and electric shocks and mass executions.

The courtroom soon devolved into a wild scene of shouting and chaos, as Saddam and his fellow defendants exchanged insults with witnesses, lectured the judge and veered into lengthy diatribes against the tribunal.

“Don’t interrupt me!” Saddam shouted at the judge, who tried with little success to make him stick to questioning the witnesses. Later, Saddam pounded on the lectern and his microphone, comparing himself to Mussolini and insisting that he was “not afraid to be executed.”

The outbursts punctuated an extraordinary eight-hour session in which Saddam faced victims of his government’s massacres in court for the first time. The first witness, Ahmad Hassan Muhammad, 38, riveted the courtroom with the scenes of torture he had witnessed after his arrest in 1982, including seeing a meat grinder with human hair and blood beneath it.

Standing 10 feet from Saddam, he described Baath Party officials’ hurling a young boy out a window to his death. At one point, Muhammad briefly broke down in tears as he recalled how his brother was tortured with electrical shocks in front of their 77-year-old father.

“There were mass arrests of men and women and children,” Muhammad said. “Even if a child was 1 day old, they used to tell his parents, ‘Bring him with you.”’

Through much of Muhammad’s account, Saddam and his fellow defendants listened in silence. Dressed in a dark suit and holding a Quran, Saddam often struck a contemplative pose, resting his head on one palm. Several times he laughed contemptuously, once during Muhammad’s narrative of his torture and imprisonment.

When their turn came to question the witnesses, Saddam and his associates showed no trace of remorse. The former rulers spoke instead of their own suffering in prison and railed at length against the court and witnesses for daring to challenge them.

The theatrics by Saddam and his half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, threatened at times to undermine the gravity of the trial.

The U.S. officials who helped create the tribunal have also expressed concern about what they call the “gamesmanship” of Saddam and his legal team.