Saddam Repeats Abuse Claims; Trial Adjourns

During his trial in Baghdad, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein repeats accusations that he'd been beaten and tortured in U.S. custody. A U.S. official says Saddam made up the allegations to distract the court from witness testimony. The tribunal was adjourned Thursday until Jan. 24.

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From the moment his trial began in October, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, his defense team and his co-defendants have done everything possible to hijack the proceedings. Today the court adjourned until January 24th. NPR's Jamie Tarabay sums up the day's often fiery dramatics from Baghdad.

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JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Every time they've been in court, Saddam and his co-defendants have found something to complain about. Their gibes at witnesses, the judge, the prosecution and even the court guards have succeeded in both delaying proceedings and distracting everyone's attention from the matter at hand, their involvement in the 1982 massacre in the Shiite village of Dujail. Today was no different.

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TARABAY: As part of the proceedings in this court, the defendants get the chance to question each witness. But Saddam used his time to again allege that he's been tortured and beaten in US custody and says he has the scars to prove it.

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Former President SADDAM HUSSEIN (Iraq): (Through Translator) I tell you before you I documented my injuries before three medical teams, and some bruises and marks three years later are still clear. We don't lie.

TARABAY: A US official says Saddam made up the allegations to ambush the judge and distract the court from witness testimony. The same official says the strategy for Saddam and his defense team is to delay and disrupt the courts. The chief judge knows this, and he's drawing criticism for giving Saddam the latitude to lecture, patronize and admonish everyone in the courtroom. For Saddam, the strategy seems to be working.

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TARABAY: Saddam still behaves as though he's the president of Iraq. When the security guard threatened to beat his half brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam told Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin that the guard had disrespected the court. `The guard should be removed,' Saddam said, `because he was only a little man.'

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TARABAY: And when Saddam wasn't speaking, half brother Barzan provided more distractions. Today he goaded the prosecution, accusing them of belonging to Saddam's Baath Party. In the lapse of self-discipline, one prosecutor allowed himself to be baited by Barzan. He launched into a screaming match with Barzan and then asked to be excused from his post, but the judge refused.

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Unidentified Man #8: (Through Translator) I will resign from my position, and please allow me to leave the court, Your Honor.

Chief Judge RIZGAR MOHAMMED AMIN: (Through Translator) You'll stay your prosecuting. Stay within the topic.

TARABAY: Saddam and his defense team have also done their best to discredit the witnesses and challenge their credibility. Today, as in past appearances, Saddam claimed one witness sounded like he'd been coached. The defense scored a point when one witness admitted he'd watched someone else's testimony on television before going into court himself. All along the defense team has tried to play down the witnesses' stories of suffering and abuse, using comparisons with the abuse and torture scandals of present-day Iraq. Saddam says the US military's rejection of his claims of torture couldn't be believed because the US has lied before, and the liar, he says, always lied.

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Mr. HUSSEIN: (Through Translator) And the White House lies once more, the number-one liar in the world. They said in Iraq there is chemicals and a relationship to terrorism, and then they announce later that we couldn't find any of that in Iraq.

TARABAY: US officials say the only contact the defendants have with the outside world while they're held at the courthouse is through their legal team, so any news they get about the trial's coverage comes from their lawyers. Today Barzan complained that some of his crass comments were being edited out of the television coverage by the court censors.

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Mr. BARZAN AL-TIKRITI (Half Brother of Saddam Hussein): (Through Translator) If there is a profanity against a witness or so, let the people know so that they can say whether he was right in saying that or not or that's his (unintelligible) Tell it as it is. This is democracy.

TARABAY: So far the defendants' tactics of playing to the media coverage have been working. Rather than leading with the witnesses' tales of torture under Saddam's regime, most of today's news reports, including this one, focused instead on Saddam's claims of torture. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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