BAGHDAD, Iraq – Prison guards under Saddam Hussein used to bury detainees alive and watch women as they bathed, occasionally shooting over their heads, a former female prisoner testified Monday in the genocide trial of the ex-president.
Speaking in Kurdish through an Arabic interpreter, the 31-year-old witness recalled what she saw as a 13-year-old girl who was detained during Saddam’s offensive against the Kurds in the late 1980s.
She was one of the day’s four Kurdish witnesses to testify about alleged atrocities. The trial was later adjourned until Tuesday.
Saddam and six co-defendants have been on trial since Aug. 21 for their roles in a bloody 1987-1988 crackdown against Kurdish rebels. Saddam and his cousin “Chemical” Ali al-Majid are charged with genocide, and the others are accused of various war crimes offenses.
All could face death by hanging if convicted.
The Kurdish woman, who testified behind a curtain and whose name was withheld apparently for fear of reprisal, said Iraqi government forces destroyed her Kurdish village in northern Iraq in 1988 and she and some family members were imprisoned in the south.
A prison warden she identified as Hajaj “used to drag women, their hands and feet shackled, and leave them in a scorching sun for several hours.”
“Soldiers used to watch us bathe,” said the woman. The guards also fired over the women’s heads as they washed.
The woman said several relatives disappeared during the offensive against the Kurds. “I know the fate of my family (members). They were buried alive,” she testified.
The prosecution presented the court with documents showing that remains of the women’s relatives turned up in a mass grave.
“I’d like to ask Saddam: ‘What crime did women and children commit’?” the woman said in court.
Saddam and his co-defendants sat quietly in court Monday when the trial resumed after a 12-day break. They were not represented by lawyers.
Chief Judge Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa had declared a recess after a stormy session on Sept. 26 in which Saddam and his co-defendants were thrown out of court. The judge said then he wanted to give the defendants time to persuade their lawyers to end their boycott of the trial, or to confer with new ones.
A second witness, 41-year-old farmer Abdul-Hadi Abdullah Mohammed, told the court Monday his mother had died in detention and several other family members went missing in 1988 and were presumed dead. “The fate of my family is still unknown up to now,” he said.
A 64-year-old farmer, Jalil Lateef Saleh, then testified that he, his wife and daughters aged 6 and 9 were arrested in 1988 in the wake of an army attack on their village near the northern city of Sulaimaniyah. Prison wardens separated him from his family, and he has not seen them since.
“They tore up my identity card and threw it into my face telling me that I was an Iranian and didn’t deserve the Iraqi ID,” he testified of his six months in detention.
A woman witness said she lost three children while in detention in 1988. Her husband was taken to another prison and became “insane” and paralyzed after being tortured, said the woman, whose name was withheld.