Saddam trial: tales of torture

The session resumed after a two-week break with witness Taimor Abdallah Rokhzai telling the court how Kurdish villagers were taken out into the desert and shot by soldiers.

“There was a trench there and we were lined up and a soldier was shooting at us,” said the smartly dressed young Kurd who now lives in Washington.

“I saw bullets hitting a woman’s head and her brain coming out. I saw the pregnant woman shot and killed,” added Mr Rokhzai, who was 12 at the time. “It was horrible.”

Mr Rokhzai watched his mother and sister and dozens of others shot dead as he was hit in the shoulder and fell into a metre-deep trench filled with bodies.

“Then suddenly it stopped and it was quiet. I was waiting to die and my whole body was covered with blood, and the soldiers went away,” he continued, describing how he then scrambled out of the pit and fled across a landscape of trenches filled with corpses.

He was eventually helped by a desert tribesman who hid him for several years before he returned to the north of the country, where word spread that a child had survived a massacre.

“When the Iraqi intelligence forces came to know that I was the only witness to have seen that massacre they sent people to kill me,” he said.

Witness Yunis Haji Haji, a former guerilla fighter, than took the stand and described his own capture and a three day torture ordeal by Saddam’s forces.

“We were made to walk on broken glass with bare feet,” said Mr Haji, who also now lives in the United States. “We were tied on a table and they used to drop cold water drop by drop on our forehead.

“Every drop used to be like a mountain crashing on our head.”

Saddam and six co-defendants are accused of responsibility for the deaths of 182,000 Kurds during the so-called Anfal campaign, when government troops swept through Iraqi Kurdistan in 1988, burning and bombing thousands of villages.

Saddam and his former aides argue that it was a legitimate counter-insurgency operation against Kurdish separatists at a time when the country was at war with neighbouring Iran.

The accused — including Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali” — all face the death penalty if convicted.

Saddam and Majid are the only defendants facing a charge of genocide, however.

Most of the defendants’ lawyers have boycotted the trial, but today’s session saw Badie Aref, who is defending former military intelligence chief Farhan al-Juburi, make an appearance in court.

Mr Aref said that during the recess, US officials came to his office and told him that he had the power to convict or acquit his defendant, and specified which defence witnesses he should use in the trial.

“This is forcing us to do something that the occupation wants,” he told the court.

Witnesses described the detention of civilians, the rape of women prisoners and villages being bombed with chemical weapons.

On November 30, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, which is tracking Saddam’s trials, described as fundamentally flawed the deposed dictator’s previous trial in which he was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death.

But Iraqi officials dismissed the rights watchdog’s report as a “Western way of thinking”.

In that trial, the former president and seven others were accused of killing 148 Shi’ites from the village of Dujail in the 1980s after Saddam escaped an assassination bid there.

The Dujail verdicts are now with an appellate chamber. If it upholds the trial court’s ruling, Iraqi law stipulates that Saddam must be executed within 30 days of that decision.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has already said Saddam may be hanged before the end of this year.