Saddam Trial Adjourned Until Dec. 21

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The trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants was adjourned Wednesday until Dec. 21 after two witnesses testified in a truncated session which the ousted president did not attend.

After two prosecution witnesses described beatings and torture by the regime, Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin adjourned the proceedings and said the court would reconvene six days after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

On Tuesday, Saddam had said he would not to take part in what he called an "unjust" court.

The other defendants and Saddam's lawyers were present in the courtroom when Amin convened the session at 3 p.m., about four hours late. Amin said the court would inform Saddam about or brief him on the proceedings that took place during his absence.

The judge then told defense attorneys that the court will meet with them "after today's hearing to discuss the security of the lawyers," which became a major issue after two members were murdered.

Saddam and the others are charged in the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982. Saddam accused Iran of ordering the attempt on his life.

Court official Raid Juhi told reporters after the session that Saddam attended a closed-door hearing that preceded the public session "and the court decided that he should be removed from the hearing on the basis of the law."

"So Saddam did not boycott but he was allowed to stay out of the hearing on the basis of a certain request," Juhi said without explaining what it was. "He was present at the courtroom during the closed session. He presented something to the court and the court decided to excuse him."

Juhi said Saddam would attend the Dec. 21 session.

"The court is trying to balance the rights of the defense with the rights of victims," Juhi added.

At Wednesday's session, a witness testified behind a beige curtain to conceal his identity. The witness said he was arrested after the assassination attempt and taken to Baath Party headquarters, where he found people "screaming because of the beatings." The witness said Saddam's half brother and co-defendant Barazan Ibrahim was present.

"When my turn came, the investigator asked me my name and he turned to Barazan and asked him, `What we shall do with him?' Barazan replied: `Take him. He might be useful.' We were almost dead because of the beatings."

Under questioning by the judge, however, the witness said he was blindfolded at the time and thought it was Ibrahim speaking because other prisoners told him so.

The witness said he was taken to Baghdad "in a closed, crowded van that had no windows."

"When we arrived at the building, they asked us to stand along the wall," he said. "We were told to stand only on one foot and we kept on this position for two hours before we were taken to cells with red walls. I was thirsty but the water was very hot."

After a few days, the witness said, he was moved to "Hall 63" where "we were kept handcuffed for five days with little food and very hot water. They used to take some persons and bring them back naked. The signs of torture were clear on their bodies."

Saddam's threat not to attend the Wednesday session came at the end of a daylong session in which five witnesses -- two women and three men -- related the events of a 1982 crackdown on Shiite Muslims. The most dramatic testimony came from a woman who spoke from behind a curtain with her voice disguised.

She told of beatings, torture and sexual humiliation at the hands of security agents when she was a teenager.

At the end of the Tuesday proceedings, the judges agreed over defense objections to meet again the following day. Saddam shouted that "I will not come to an unjust court! Go to hell!"

Throughout the trial, which began Oct. 19, Saddam has repeatedly staged confrontations with the court and attempted to take control of the proceedings with dramatic rhetorical flourishes.

Ibrahim made his own complaints against the court Wednesday, saying that he spent more than eight months in solitary confinement in a windowless facility without air conditioning, electricity or running water.

"I couldn't tell if it was day or night," he said.

Ibrahim said guards would force him and other prisoners to exercise, or punish them when they refused by withholding cigarettes, tea or by reducing food rations.

"When I was detained I was wearing pajamas that I kept wearing for nine months until my brother came and gave me a dishdasha" -- a traditional robe, he said. "For one year I did not drink tea or coffee. We had little food."

Ibrahim said he lost nearly 40 pounds in two months. He said things are better and they have air conditioning and cold water.

At one point during the trial, Ibrahim sought to distance himself from the Dujail events, saying that his position as head of intelligence was a political post, and that the treatment of prisoners was not the responsibility of the security services.

Referring to the "red room" that two witnesses testified about Wednesday, Ibrahim said he "never set foot in such a place."

Addressing the judge, he said: "I am not a jailer I am a political official."

Earlier, he said he was only responsible for the security of Saddam at the head of a team that numbered around 50.

He said when he heard about the Dujail incident, "I went there to see what happened. I was there on the first and second day. My responsibility ends when the detainee goes to prison."