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Hussein says he's not eating


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants declared in court yesterday that they had begun a jailhouse hunger strike to protest their trial on charges of violating the human rights of Shiite Muslim villagers.

"For the past three days we've been on a hunger strike against you and your masters," Hussein told the judge as he walked into the courtroom. The former Iraqi leader wore a black suit and was more subdued than he has been on other days during the tumultuous trial.

Court officials derided the hunger strike as a hoax meant to grab media attention.

"According to my information, they had breakfast while we did not," lead prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi told the Los Angeles Times. "They eat all the good food."

The prosecution struggled as it sought to tie Hussein and the other defendants to violence inflicted on the villagers of Dujail after a 1982 attempt to assassinate Hussein while he visited the town.

Three witnesses who had been compelled to testify repeatedly contradicted written statements collected earlier by the lead investigative judge, Raad Juhi, a young lawyer who has become the public spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal.

After a session that lasted about three hours, the judge adjourned the trial until Feb. 28 without giving any reason for the two-week recess. Western officials close to the tribunal have expressed frustration at its slow pace and a feeling that the judges don't appreciate the financial and human resources expended on proceedings that drag on.

Three defendants - Hussein, his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and former judicial chief Awad Hamed al-Bandar - said they were on a hunger strike.

After court adjourned, Juhi declined to confirm or deny whether any defendants were refusing to eat, but he pointed out that Ibrahim had brought bottled water with him into the courtroom.

The defendants have been using the trial as a stage for political tirades, and yesterday was no exception. Toward the end of the session, in a segment edited out of the version shown to television viewers with a 20-minute delay, Hussein urged Iraqis to fight the "occupier."

The proceedings have been conducted with court-appointed defense attorneys since defense lawyers walked out of the courtroom several weeks ago.

The prosecution alleges that Hussein and his underlings directed a years-long campaign of torture, imprisonment and execution against the men, women and children of Dujail. But the five former Hussein loyalists whom prosecutors have compelled to take the witness stand over the past two days have not corroborated prosecution claims or verified documents that they purportedly signed.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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