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Hussein Skips Trial

The trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants was adjourned on Wednesday and will resume on December 21.

The hearing had resumed Wednesday after a delay of several hours with the deposed Iraqi leader absent from the courtroom.

Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin opened the session at 3 p.m. (7 a.m. ET), about four hours late, and called the first witness.

Hussein's chair sat empty at the front of the dock, and his chief lawyer thanked Amin for continuing the proceedings.

Amin said Hussein would be told about the proceedings taking place in his absence and that judges would meet with the defense team after Wednesday's session to discuss the lawyers' security situation.

On Tuesday, Hussein threatened not to return to court after five witnesses testified about brutalities they experienced during a government crackdown 23 years ago.

At the end of the nine-hour court session, Hussein complained that he and his seven co-defendants were tired and had been deprived of opportunities to shower, have a change of clothes, exercise or go for a smoke.

"I will not be in a court without justice. Go to hell, all you agents of America," Hussein told the court.

Wednesday morning, Hussein's lawyers conferred with the trial's judges and then the defendant, apparently in an effort to resolve the situation, CNN's Aneesh Raman reported from Baghdad.

CNN's Nic Robertson described the situation as a "power struggle between Saddam Hussein and the court."

Hussein and seven other defendants are on trial in connection with the deaths of more than 140 men in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad. The 1982 killings were considered retribution for a failed assassination attempt on Hussein.

After Wednesday's session convened, the court heard from a male witness who testified from behind a beige curtain to protect his identify. He was referred to as "Witness F."

The witness linked Hussein's half brother and co-defendant Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti to the crimes with which all the defendants are charged, The Associated Press reported.

The witness said he was arrested after the assassination attempt and taken to Baath Party headquarters, where he found people "screaming because of the beatings." He said al-Tikriti was present.

"When my turn came, the investigator asked me my name and he turned to Barzan and asked him, 'What we shall do with him?' Barzan replied: 'Take him. He might be useful.' We were almost dead because of the beatings," AP quoted him as testifying.

Under questioning by the judge, however, the witness said he was blindfolded at the time and thought it was al-Tikriti speaking because other prisoners told him so, AP reported.

The witness said he was taken to Baghdad "in a closed crowded van that had no windows."

"When we arrived at the building they asked us to stand along the wall," he said. "We were told to stand only on one foot and we kept on this position for two hours before we were taken to cells with red walls. I was thirsty but the water was very hot."

After a few days, the witness said, he was moved to "Hall 63" where "we were kept handcuffed for five days with little food and very hot water. They used to take some persons and bring them back naked. The signs of torture were clear on their bodies."

Witnesses' voices disguised

Tuesday's witnesses -- three men and two women sitting behind a curtain with voices disguised by a modulator -- described beatings, electrocutions and deaths in 1982.

Hussein and the Baath Party were firmly in power then, and the country was at war with Iran, a crucial period in the nation's history.

Fears of retribution by Hussein loyalists forced the court to shield the witnesses' identities. Witnesses are allowed to have their voices altered to hide their identities from the defendants, media and people in the visitors' gallery -- but not from the judges or attorneys.

Breaking down in tears, a woman identified only as "Witness A" described mistreatment by Iraqi intelligence officers while at Abu Ghraib prison 20 years ago and then captivity in the desert. She said she was beaten with cables and given electric shocks.

She also described the torture of family members and other prisoners and the destruction of homes and orchards.

After her came an older woman identified as "Witness B" and a man identified as "Witness C."

The latter testified that he was 12 when he was rounded up in 1982. He said that he was taken first to Baath Party headquarters in Dujail, then to Baghdad, where he was tortured and sent to Abu Ghraib jail.

He eventually was taken to a desert prison camp, where he spent four years before being returned to Dujail.

Asked which of the defendants he held accountable, Witness C testified that he saw Hussein's half brother al-Tikriti at the Baath headquarters in Dujail.

During his cross-examination of Witness C, al-Tikriti acknowledged that he was at Baath headquarters but recalled a different encounter.

"Don't you remember? I was there. I kissed 60 men. I shook their hands, and I set them free," al-Tikriti said.

Defense attorneys questioned the accuracy of Witness C's childhood recollections.

A man testifying as "Witness D" said that he hasn't seen his son since the 16-year-old was whisked away in 1982.

The man said that after Hussein's ouster, papers were discovered indicating his son had died.

The defense pounced on this detail, questioning its authenticity.

"Witness E" also described abuse that followed the Dujail roundup.

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