Angry crack at Hussein trial

Two witnesses who survived a 1982 massacre angrily confronted Iraq's onetime dictator in a courtroom here yesterday, accusing Saddam Hussein of ordering the killing of many villagers and the torture of hundreds of others, some of them with a meat-grinder.In a day of theatrics and histrionics, Hussein shouted back at the witnesses and the judge, saying he had the right as president to defend his government. He scoffed at the court, saying: ''Do you want the neck of Saddam Hussein? Then have it."

It was the first day of direct, face-to-face testimony on the many charges against Hussein.Ahmed Hassan Mohammed, 38, described his four-year ordeal of torture and imprisonment after a failed assassination attempt against Hussein in Dujail on July 8, 1982, gasping and nearly breaking into tears as he spoke directly to his former ruler, seated less than 10 feet away in the defendants' area.

''If I had to describe all the torture, I would need 10 days," he said, his voice breaking as he described women being beaten in front of him, fellow prisoners being electrocuted, and a bloody meat grinder, apparently used by interrogators.

But Hussein and his half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, responded fiercely, presenting for the first time a defense for the killings of more than 140 Shi'ites in Dujail.''I am Saddam Hussein, responsible for all of it," the former president nearly screamed in a heated argument with the judge at the conclusion of the eight-hour session last night.

''Isn't it Saddam's right as president or the right of any president . . . to follow these aggressors who shot at him?" Hussein said, defending the right of a president to send lieutenants, as he is alleged to have done, to exact revenge against a village that had been the scene of an assassination attempt.

For the first time, the judge attempted to rein in Hussein, who had rambled at will in court and repeatedly accused the judge of being an American stooge during the first two days of the trial. For nearly an hour he ignored Hussein's raised hand, and told him not to interrupt the court.

The first to testify were among the few on the witness list who agreed to have their faces and names broadcast on television. And they didn't hesitate to confront Hussein, locking glares and exchanging fiery words.

Under Iraqi law, everyone in the courtroom is allowed to questions witnesses, so Hussein and his codefendants were able to join the judge, prosecutors, and the defense team in grilling the two men who took the stand yesterday.

Order in the courtroom quickly broke down once the session began. First, the defense team staged a walkout, but returned after the judge agreed to hear arguments from a former US attorney general, Ramsey Clark, and from a former Qatari justice minister, both members of Hussein's legal defense, reports Boston Globe. I.L.

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