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Iraq witness recounts torture, ‘meat grinder’

Men and women were tortured for days and babies left to die in an interrogation facility that  featured a meat grinder for human flesh, the first prosecution witness to face Saddam Hussein told the court on Monday.
/ Source: Reuters

Men and women were tortured for days and babies were left to die in an interrogation facility that featured a meat grinder for human flesh, the first prosecution witness to face Saddam Hussein told the court on Monday.

After weeks of delay and legal arguments over security and the legitimacy of the court, the trial of Saddam and seven co-defendants heard graphic witness testimony of torture and summary execution.

Saddam and the other defendants are charged with crimes against humanity. They have pleaded innocent.

"I swear by God I walked by a room and on my left I saw a grinder with blood coming out of it and human hair underneath," said 38-year-old Ahmed Hassan, who said he had been kept in Room 63 at the Hakmiya intelligence headquarters in Baghdad.

Hassan, the first witness to face Saddam in court, said he was 15 when Saddam visited the village of Dujail in July 1982 and Shiite militants tried to assassinate him.

Speaking technically as an individual plaintiff alongside the state, Hassan said he and his family were among hundreds of people rounded up in a security operation run by Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti after an attempt on Saddam's life in the village.

Barzan, one of Saddam's three younger half-brothers and the former head of the feared Mukhabarat intelligence service, is one of Saddam's seven co-accused in the case relating to the killings of 148 mostly Shiite Muslim men from Dujail.

‘No one escaped torture’
"Barzan was present. He had red cowboy boots and blue jeans and a sniper rifle," Hassan, a stockily built man with a round face and gray beard, told the heavily fortified court in central Baghdad.

He said Saddam, from the Sunni Arab minority, asked a 15-year-old boy if he knew who he was. "He said 'Saddam.' Then Saddam hit him in the head with an ash tray," Hassan said.

With Barzan constantly interjecting from the dock and calling the testimony lies, Hassan said he was among hundreds of people taken from the Shiite village to the Hakmiya intelligence headquarters, run by Barzan.

He said it was while he was climbing the stairs there that he saw the meat grinder.

"No one escaped torture," he said. "They would put a mask on my eyes and because I was young it would fall down. I saw women being tortured."

"My brother was given electric shocks while my 77-year-old father watched," Hassan said.

"They told us, 'Why don't you confess, you will be executed anyway,' " he said. "One man was shot in the leg with two bullets. ... Some people were crippled because they had their arms and legs broken."

He said they were held in Hakmiya for 70 days.

While they were there, a woman told a guard that her infant baby needed milk or he would die. "He died and the guard threw him from the window," Hassan told the court. "Pregnant women gave birth in the prison. Their babies died."