Tales of the Human Meat Grinder

in Baghdad

Saddam Hussein said he was not afraid of execution as his trial resumed in Baghdad yesterday, and a witness described the mass killing and torture inflicted by the former regime.

In court there was an almost palpable sense of hatred between the accusers and the accused. “I swear by God, I walked by a room and … saw a grinder with blood coming out of it and human hair underneath,” recalled Ahmed Hassan Mohammed of his years in prison. Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother, jumped to his feet and shouted: “It’s a lie.”

Saddam Hussein continued to give himself regal airs on the third day of his trial in Baghdad, at one point appearing to threaten the judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin. He described the testimony about how 148 men had been killed in the Shia village of Dujail in 1982 and others imprisoned and tortured as “organized lies”. Addressing the judge, Saddam said: “When the revolution of the heroic Iraq arrives, you will be held accountable.”

The former Iraqi leader and seven others are being tried for the killings in Dujail which happened after a dozen local men tried to assassinate Saddam when he visited the village.

Mr Mohammed, choking back tears, described how all the people between 14 and 70 in Dujail had been arrested and taken to the intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. He said: “There were mass arrests. Women and men. Even if a child was one day old they used to tell his parents, ‘bring him with you’.” Mr Mohammed, who was 15 at the time, watched as his family and fellow villagers were tortured, often to death. “My brother was given electric shocks while my 77-year-old father watched,” he said. “One man was shot in the leg … some were crippled because they had arms and legs broken.” He saw nine bodies heaped in a courtyard.

The court began with wrangling over its legitimacy, given that it was set up under a law passed during the US occupation. Ramsey Clark, the former US attorney general, who is on Saddam’s defense team, said: “This trial can divide or heal. Unless it is seen as absolutely fair, and fair in fact, it will divide rather than reconcile Iraq.”

There was little sign of reconciliation yesterday. Soon after the trial resumed there was a brief walkout by defence lawyers after the judge initially refused to hear their arguments about the illegitimacy of the trial and the lack of protection for the defense. Saddam Hussein, Barzan Ibrahim and other officials present themselves as Iraqi nationalists persecuted by the American occupiers and their Iraqi agents. Saddam shouted at one point: “Long live Iraq, long live the Arab state.”

Saddam still sees himself as the embodiment of the Iraqi nation who has the right to demand obedience. As the bespectacled prosecutor was asking questions Saddam suddenly said: “Hey, you in the glasses, don’t you recognise your leader for 30 years?”

PATRICK COCKBURN was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting in recognition of his writing on Iraq over the past year. His new memoir, The Broken Boy, has just been published in the UK by Jonathan Cape.



Patrick Cockburn’s past columns can now be found at The I. Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).