Saddam Hussein and three former officials in his regime on Tuesday told the court handling their trial that they were on a hunger strike in protest of the judge overseeing the proceedings.
Saddam said he had not eaten in three days, while his former intelligence chief, Ibrahim Barzan, said he had been on strike for two days. Their claims of a hunger strike could not be independently confirmed. The defendants are being held in U.S. detention, and U.S. officials could not immediately be reached to comment.
Investigative judge Raid Juhi did not deny the defendants were refusing food when asked about the strike after the day’s three-hour session. “This is an administrative problem that the court is working to verify and it will work also to solve it... with the responsible parties in the custodial authorities,” he told reporters.
“But, as you could see, the defendants are in good health,” he said.
Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman, who took over the court last month, has worked to impose order in a court where outbursts and arguments have frequently overshadowed the testimony.
At the start of Tuesday’s session, Saddam told the judge, “For three days we have been holding a hunger strike protesting against your way of treating us — against you and your masters.”
Ibrahim, who wore only his long underwear for the second day in a row, complained that he and the other defendants had been forced to attend the proceedings against their will.
“You brought me by force in my pajamas and I have been on a hunger strike for two days,” he said.
The defendants refused to attend sessions last month after their defense team walked out of court. The defense lawyers have refused to participate in the trial until Abdel-Rahman is removed, accusing him of bias against Saddam.
Abdel-Rahman appointed new defense lawyers, but Saddam and other defendants refused to accept them. But on Monday, Abdel-Rahman ordered the defendants to attend the session. Saddam entered on his own, but Ibrahim had to be pulled into the court — shouting and struggling and wearing only his long underwear — by guards who held him by the arms.
Former regime members testify
The prosecution continued its attempts to prove Saddam and his seven co-defendants were directly involved in a wave of arrests and executions that followed a 1982 attempt on his life in the Shiite village of Dujail.
It put three former members of Saddam’s regime — a former secretary of Saddam, a former governor and an anonymous intelligence official — on the witness stand in three hours of testimony, before Abdel-Rahman adjourned the proceedings until Feb. 28.
The prosecution displayed to the court a document dated July 21, 1982 — 12 days after the assassination attempt — in which the Mukhabarat, the intelligence agency headed by Ibrahim, recommended rewards for six employees officials for their role in the arrests.
The document bore a signature that the prosecution said was Ibrahim’s. Below it was written the word “agreed” with what was allegedly Saddam’s signature.
On the witness stand, Hamed Youssef Hamadi — who was Saddam’s personal secretary at the time — was asked whose handwriting was on the memo. “It looks like President Saddam’s,” he said.
Saddam and his seven co-defendants are on trial in the killing of nearly 150 Shiite Muslims in Dujail. If convicted, they could face the death penalty by hanging.
Since the trial began, Saddam and Ibrahim have only dealt with the court with contempt, interrupting it with outbursts, arguments and insults.
Tuesday’s session began in much the same way. Saddam entered and shouted his support for Iraqi insurgents, yelling “Long live the mujahedeen.” Later, during the testimony, he shouted, “I say to all Iraqis fight and liberate your country.”
He argued with Abdel-Rahman, at one point telling the judge, “Hit your own head with that gavel.”
But when the testimony began, Ibrahim addressed the court for nearly a half-hour, giving the first lengthy account by any of the eight defendants about their role in the Dujail crackdown. Ibrahim spoke from the defendants’ pen, and Abdel-Rahman allowed him to speak, largely uninterrupted.
Ibrahim denied any role in the wave of arrests. He said he went to Dujail on the day that gunmen opened fire on Saddam’s motorcade, then returned to the village the following day. He claimed he ordered the release of 80 detainees held at the ruling Baath Party’s headquarters in the town.
“I released all the detainees inside the hall — more than 80 persons. I swear to God I said goodbye to them one by one and apologized,” he said.
He said that on his way to Dujail he remembered hearing a story that former Syrian President Hafez Assad had killed detainees after a failed assassination attempt against him. “This was on my mind, and I told myself that I will not allow anyone even to be slapped,” he told the court.
After those two visits, “I never heard of Dujail ever again. I never got a report on it. It was all handed over to the General Security Services,” a separate agency, Ibrahim told the judge.
In previous sessions, some prosecution witnesses — Dujail residents arrested in the crackdown — have testified that Ibrahim was personally involved in torturing them after they were taken from Dujail to the Baghdad headquarters of the Mukharabat, the feared intelligence agency that Ibrahim headed under Saddam.
One witness testified last month that her interrogators stripped her naked, hung her by her arms and gave her electric shocks. Ibrahim entered the room, ordered her hung by her feet then kicked her three times in the chest, she said.
After hearing testimony from dozens of victims of the crackdown since the trial began on Oct. 19, the prosecution on Monday and Tuesday began calling former members of Saddam’s regime to the witness stand in an attempt to show Saddam’s direct role in the imprisonments in executions.