- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2005

BAGHDAD — A survivor of a massacre broke into tears in front of an impassive Saddam Hussein yesterday while describing the brutal killings of men, women and children in the Shi’ite village of Dujail in 1982.

Ahmed Hassan Mohammed was the first witness to testify in the murder and torture case against Saddam, highlighting an emotional day in which the former dictator repeatedly yelled at the judge and the defense team briefly walked out in protest over the proceedings.

“I am not afraid of execution,” said the defiant ex-president, after suggesting that Mr. Mohammed needed psychiatric help.

Security was tight after reports Sunday that terrorists planned to hit the courthouse with rocket fire. Police and U.S. and Iraqi troops closed down several major highways and set up checkpoints in city streets.

Mr. Mohammed was 15 when hundreds of families from his village were tortured and killed after an assassination attempt against Saddam. The witness said his family was among the hundreds taken to a Baghdad jail.

“I swear by God, I walked by a room and … saw a grinder with blood coming out of it and human hair underneath,” said Mr. Mohammed, who allowed his face to be shown on camera despite the risk of retaliation by Saddam’s supporters.

“My brother was a student in high school, and they took him and my father to be interrogated. They tortured him with electric shocks in front of my 77-year-old father,” said a sobbing Mr. Mohammed.

“Some were crippled because they had arms and legs broken,” he added.

Seated just feet away in a small fenced-off area, Saddam smirked or stared through much of the testimony, while his co-defendant and half brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti repeatedly yelled: “It’s a lie.”

Saddam tried at various times to interrupt the proceedings, at one point standing up and shouting, “Long live Iraq.” He repeatedly demanded the right to speak, and Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin had to wrest back control of the courtroom.

Iraqis are divided about the trial, with many questioning the legitimacy of the court but others pleased to see the former strongman finally facing justice.

“Saddam deserves what is happening to him now, because he did worse,” said Sarah, a 20-year-old student in large sunglasses.

“Look what he did to his people. … He kept everything good for his own family,” she said, frowning in the midday sun. “They should give him to the Iraqi people to pay the penalty.”

Her companion Sammar, 18, disagreed. “There is no justice in this court,” she said, as gunfire rattled overhead. “It is difficult to see our president in this situation. He is still an Iraqi national.”

Iraqi television prefaced the trial coverage with film clips dating from Saddam’s rule that showed men getting their tongues sliced off and a young man having his arms repeatedly broken before his hands were cut off.

Two friends — a Sunni and a Shi’ite — who watched the broadcast in Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood looked away in disgust, even though they disagreed about the legitimacy of the court.

“He killed my uncle in 1980, but I think Saddam Hussein in a cage like that, in front of everyone, is an insult to the Iraqis,” said Falah, 42, who, like the others, declined to give his last name. “It would be better if he were tried abroad.”

The trial opened just as the Muslim call to prayer floated over the city. It soon dissolved into disorder as the attorneys for Saddam and the seven co-defendants challenged the legitimacy of the court.

Witnesses called to address the issue included a former justice minister from Qatar and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who then led the defense team in walking out of the courtroom in protest.

Time stretched out as the defendants and judges discussed the situation, and finally the attorneys trooped back in to resume the trial.

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