BAGHDAD, Iraq -- As Saddam Hussein and other key defendants boycotted their trial, two women testified yesterday that Saddam's intelligence chief had supervised and participated in torture sessions where they were stripped naked, given electric shocks, hung from the ceiling, and beaten.
The accounts were the most chilling so far in court proceedings in which the defendants' tirades have often overshadowed the victims of their alleged crimes. It was the most damaging testimony yet against Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, the second-best- known defendant in the courtroom drama that began in October.
One woman said Hasan, who is Hussein's younger half brother, had subjected her to a mock execution, firing a pistol near her head before beating her unconscious with it. The other woman said the intelligence chief had kicked her in the chest, breaking a rib. Both described their humiliation in rapid, high-pitched voices, seated behind a curtain to hide their identities.
"The torture was one-fourth of the suffering," the first woman recalled, her voice choking over events a generation ago. "The undressing was the other three-fourths."
Hussein, Hasan, three of the other six defendants, and the entire team of defense lawyers refused to show up for the session in protest against alleged bias by the new chief judge.
Taking over the trial Sunday, Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman ousted Hasan and a defense lawyer for shouting, triggering a walkout by the other lawyers, Hussein, former Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan, and Awad Bandar, former head of the revolutionary court.
Of the remaining defendants, little-known former officials of Hussein's Baath Party, one joined the boycott and remained in his cell as the trial resumed yesterday after a two-day recess. Six court-appointed attorneys stood in for the defense.
Hussein's lead attorney, Khalil Dulaimi, said the boycott would continue unless the judge is removed from the bench. Dulaimi called him "an enemy to my client" because of his imprisonment during Baath Party rule for membership in an outlawed Kurdish opposition movement.
The defendants are charged in the killings of more than 140 men and boys from Dujail in collective punishment for a 1982 assassination attempt against Hussein in the predominantly Shiite village. The trial is the first of many planned for Hussein by the U.S.-created tribunal set up after his ouster in 2003.
Among other things, prosecutors are trying to prove that Hasan, then in charge of Iraq's feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency, supervised the arrests of the victims along with several hundred others from Dujail who survived four years of torture and imprisonment.
In trial testimony last year, Hasan acknowledged that he had investigated the attempt on the president's life but insisted that he had no authority over the security police who made the arrests. He denied taking part in interrogations.
Two previous witnesses, however, placed him at the scenes of torture sessions, and yesterday's harrowing testimony bolstered the prosecution's case.
Hasan has long been said to have used the Mukhabarat as an instrument of savagery against the regime's suspected foes. But the women were the first of its many victims to accuse Hasan in court of having brutalized them personally.
In a brief cross-examination, Hasan's court-appointed attorney asked one of the women whether she was sure the official she saw was Hasan. "After all that happened to her, she couldn't have a very good memory," the attorney told the judge.
"Does he think I'm a foreigner?" the woman asked. "I am an Iraqi. I had seen him on TV."
And the guards, addressing their boss by his first name, said, 'Mr. Barzan, this is the prisoner,'" she testified.
Judge Abdel-Rahman had ordered the proceedings closed for the first half hour to discuss the defendants' boycott. Court officials did not say who attended or what took place.
"The judge really didn't have much of a choice to proceed," said Jonathan Drimmer, a former U.S. Justice Department war crimes investigator.
Richard Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times.