BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – Saddam Hussein accused U.S. forces on Wednesday of beating him in custody, after witnesses in his trial gave evidence linking the former Iraqi president and his henchmen to alleged killings and torture.
"I have been hit by the Americans and tortured," Saddam said towards the end of a hearing in which he was largely subdued. "I have been beaten on every place of my body, and the signs are all over my body."
A U.S. official involved in the court process denied the allegations.
Earlier in the day, two witnesses described torture at the hands of Saddam””s officers.
One witness told the court that Saddam””s guards heated up plastic tubing and allowed the hot plastic to drip onto the bodies of victims, and burnt the feet of detainees.
"They would be in such pain as the plastic solidified on their bodies," the witness recalled. "A man would leave on his feet and come back thrown in a blanket."
Another witness said he was given electric shocks. While he screamed in agony in the torture chamber at the headquarters of the intelligence service in Baghdad, Saddam””s half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti ate grapes and watched, the witness said.
Saddam hit back, saying he had been beaten and tortured while in U.S. custody following his arrest in late 2003.
Then, in one of his more contrite statements so far, he said those guilty of the alleged torture should be punished.
"The wrongs that were done to those people were wrong and according to law, those who did it should get what they deserve," he said.
Saddam and seven co-defendants including Barzan are charged with crimes against humanity relating to the killing of 148 people from the mainly Shi””ite village of Dujail, north of Baghdad, in the 1980s.
Prosecutors say Saddam ordered the killings in reprisal for a failed bid to assassinate him in the village in 1982.
Previous witnesses have given sometimes rambling and imprecise accounts of hardships they suffered under Saddam but the first witness on Wednesday, Ali Hassan al-Haidari, spoke calmly and coherently and made specific allegations. He said Barzan had kicked him once as he lay in a hallway suffering from a fever.
"He said to the guards ””Do not treat him, this family does not deserve to live””," Haidari said. "I was in pain for weeks because of that kick."
Barzan lost his temper several times. During six trial hearings he has emerged as the most outspoken defendant, eclipsing even Saddam.
At one point, Barzan, dressed in a plain grey robe and traditional red-and-white head-dress, leapt to the defence of another defendant, former Iraqi vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan, accused by the witness of bulldozing farms in Dujail.
"His (Ramadan””s) shoe is more honourable than you and all your tribe, you dog!" Barzan shouted at Haidari.
Court guards twice opened the gate to the caged defendants”” dock as if to remove Barzan but the judge ordered them to stop.
At one point Saddam asked the judge for a break to pray and when the judge refused his request, Saddam swivelled in his black leather chair, faced the witness and rocked slightly in his seat in apparent prayer.
Haidari””s testimony was among the most graphic so far in the stop-start and often chaotic trial, which started on Oct. 19 and has been adjourned three times.
He said that even if Saddam was not directly involved in the torture, he must have ordered it.
"At that time no one acted on his own unless orders were given by Saddam," he said. "I hold Saddam responsible for detaining me and my family and ruining my future."
The second witness, who testified from behind a curtain to protect his identity, said his son had been killed and he had been tortured with electric shocks.
"During the interrogation they””d torture me, and Barzan was there eating grapes," he said. "I was screaming. I””m an old man. He was there."