Back in court, Hussein claims he's the victim

Witnesses described their torture after an assassination attempt on Iraq's former leader.

After listening to witness testimony detailing torture and killing that followed a 1982 attempt on his life, Saddam Hussein himself claimed he was a victim of abuse at the hands of his American captors.

The former Iraqi president claimed that he and several other Baath Party officials being tried for crimes against Iraqi civilians are being tortured by the very forces promising to bring rule of law to Iraq.

"Yes, we were beaten by the Americans. And we were tortured - every one of us," said Mr. Hussein, who had been sitting almost placidly for a long afternoon of testimony, avoiding the fiery interruptions and challenges to the court he had made on previous trial dates.

"This one," said Hussein, turning to gesture to one of the defendants behind him, "they hit him on the back with the rifles, until he fell." He then referred to his half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, also a main target of testimony for a trial focused on the killing of more than 140 people from the mainly Shiite village of Dujail. "Barzan, he fell. Both of his feet are showing that [torture]."

US officials in Baghdad and Western legal analysts were quick to suggest that Hussein's allegations were just a gimmick to distract attention from the mountains evidence against him, and to rile his countrymen's resentment toward the US occupation of Iraq.

But Hussein's accusations will most likely need to be answered with an investigation that could slow down the pace of the trial. Such prime-time drama can be expected to play well in Sunni Arab living rooms - where many people are furious over accusations of voter fraud in last week's elections - and with other Iraqis angry over the treatment of detainees in US custody, such as in the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal.

Hussein and his lawyers have been trying to recast the former dictator's image to that of an aging, religious man - a kind of honored forefather of the modern Iraqi nation. But the day was filled with testimony that described his regime's brutal torture, horrendous lock-up conditions, and executions of detainees.

Ali Hassan Mohammed al-Haidari, who was 14 in 1982, testified that seven of his brothers were executed by Hussein's regime, their bodies never found. He also said that he and other Dujail residents - including relatives - were taken to Baghdad and thrown into a security-services prison, where people from "9 to 90" were held.

"I cannot express all that suffering and pain we faced in the 70 days inside," Mr. Haidari said.

Hussein offered his sympathies to any one who suffered harm, painting it as if it had occurred on someone else's watch.

"Any harm brought on an Iraqi, my heart breaks," Hussein told the court, sporting a suit without a tie and a full-grown beard that fits with the neoreligious tones he has been trying to strike, asking the court to stop so he can pray.

"Not because I'm afraid of anyone other than God. Any harm that fell on those persons is wrong and those who did it should take their punishment. But that happened in a third-world country, as America calls us, 25 years ago. What's happening now? Has anyone not been beaten, including beating marks, until this day?" he asked, alluding to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, whether under the charge of US soldiers or Iraqis.

The interim Iraqi government has been racked by the recent discovery of underground prisons, run by the Shiite-run Interior Ministry, in which mostly Sunni Arab prisoners were mistreated.

Hussein's denunciation of the court and his treatment suggested a new tack in his approach to winning public support: trying to show that Americans in Iraq are doing the same thing his security officials once did.

"You have to defend yourselves, not against Saddam Hussein," he told the court. "You are being humiliated every day."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this article.

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