BAGHDAD, Iraq – The genocide trial of Saddam Hussein resumed Monday with testimony that his troops buried prisoners alive and abused female prisoners by shackling them for hours in the sun and firing over their heads as they bathed.
Saddam and his six co-defendants are on trial for offenses allegedly committed against Iraqi Kurds during a crackdown in the late 1980s. If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced to death by hanging.
One woman, who testified behind a curtain and whose name was withheld apparently for fear of reprisal, told the court she was 13 years old when she was detained during the crackdown.
The woman said Iraqi troops destroyed her village in northern Iraq in 1988 and that she and some family members were imprisoned in southern Iraq.
A prison warden she identified as Hajaj "used to drag women, their hands and feet shackled, and leave them in scorching sun for several hours," she told the court.
"Soldiers used to watch us bathe," she added, saying the guards would also fire weapons over the women's heads as they washed.
The woman said several relatives disappeared during the offensive.
"I know the fate of my family [members]. They were buried alive," she testified.
The prosecution presented the court with documents showing that remains of the women's relatives turned up in a mass grave.
"I'd like to ask Saddam: 'what crime did women and children commit'?" the witness said.
The court heard from three other witnesses, including farmer Abdul-Hadi Abdullah Mohammed, who testified that his mother had died in detention. Several other family members went missing in 1988 and are presumed dead, he added.
Jalil Lateef Saleh, 64, said he, his wife and young daughters were arrested in 1988 after an attack on their village. Prison guards separated him from his family and he has not seen them since, he said.
"They tore up my identity card and threw it into my face telling me that I was an Iranian and didn't deserve the Iraqi ID," he testified.
Another woman said she lost three children while in detention in 1988 and her husband went "insane" after being tortured "by being beaten on his head."
The woman, whose name was also withheld, said her husband survived but was paralyzed.
"The traces of whips remained on his body one year after his detention," she said. "I don't know what was my fault or that of my husband to have endured all that. My daughter died in prison, while my two sons were buried in mass graves."
Saddam and his cousin, "Chemical" Ali Hassan al-Majid, are facing charges of genocide in the trial. Five others on trial face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Saddam and the other defendants sat silently as the trial resumed after a 12-day break. They were not represented by lawyers.
Chief defense lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said Sunday that the defense team would continue to boycott the trial to protest the removal of the first chief judge, and the court's refusal to give the attorneys time to examine thousands of documents.
Chief Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa declared a recess Sept. 26 after a stormy session in which Saddam and his co-defendants were thrown out of court.
The judge said he wanted to give the defendants time to persuade their lawyers to end their boycott of the trial, or to confer with new ones.
Saddam has insisted that the crackdown, known as Operation Anfal, was directed against Kurdish rebels who were allied with Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. But the prosecution maintains that about 180,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed in the crackdown, during which Iraq forces used poison gas against Kurdish villages.
The ex-president and seven co-defendants are awaiting a verdict in another trial — for the deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims following an assassination attempt against him in 1982 in the town of Dujail.
That trial adjourned July 27 to allow a five-judge panel to consider a verdict. The court is due to reconvene on Oct. 16, but court officials say a verdict is not expected then.
Saddam could also receive the death penalty if convicted in the Dujail case.
Last week, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a member of Saddam's defense team, told reporters in Washington that a bloodbath would follow should an Iraqi court order Saddam's execution.