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High-ranking member of Saddam's regime alleges abuse

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Saddam Hussein's former vice president testified Monday that U.S. troops kicked and beat him for two weeks after his arrest in August 2003, in an effort to force him to tell them where Saddam was hiding.

Taha Yassin Ramadan, who's being tried with Saddam and five others for murder and other crimes, said interrogators also forced him to walk continually, beating him if he stopped, and stepped on his hands when he prayed.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a top military spokesman in Baghdad, viewed the allegations skeptically. He said Ramadan would have had access to health and human rights officials throughout his imprisonment and could have mentioned the charges to them.

"We will investigate the allegations appropriately," Johnson said. "But at this time, I don't believe this allegation has merit."

The prosecutor in the trial also asked that the court to investigate the allegations. Torture "is a crime, and the court should take it into consideration," said chief Iraqi prosecutor Jafar al-Musawi.

But it was unclear what the court would do. Chief Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman noted that Ramadan's 30-minute statement didn't directly address the charges against him.

Elsewhere in Iraq, 15 people died in violence, but there was no wide-scale retaliation for the six car bombs that hit markets in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City on Sunday.

Among the dead were four men found shot in Sadr City, each wearing a sign that said "traitor." Four police officers were killed in Tikrit after they were lured to a building to find a dead body. As they entered the building, a bomb exploded.

Saddam, Ramadan and their co-defendants are charged with murder and other crimes for ordering retaliation against the village of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after gunmen attempted to assassinate the Iraqi dictator there in 1982.

Ramadan is accused of ordering the fruit orchards around the village leveled as a collective punishment.

Another defendant, Awad Bandar al-Bandar, who ordered the execution of 148 Dujail residents, defended his sentences as proper under the laws at the time. The death sentences were handed down during a two-week trial in 1984.

"We were in a state of war with Iran, and the defendants admitted they did that attack," he said. "The target was the head of state. The situation of Iraq was not normal. There were a lot of martyrs and an intense war—we all have lived that moment."

Ramadan became the highest ranking official of the former Iraq regime to accuse American troops of mistreating him. The claims echo allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad and at the prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ramadan said American troops placed a bag over his head after he was arrested on Aug. 17, 2003, and flew him to what he presumed was Baghdad International Airport.

He said he was taken to a room he called "the intelligence center," where four men, including an American in civilian dress and a translator, told him to kneel and asked him where Saddam could be found.

"I said, `To be honest, I don't know,'" he said. "Someone kicked me with his feet and ordered me to get on my knees. When I said I was tired, they started to hit me with the stick and with shoes and a belt."

Ramadan said that when he asked for water, they brought him hot water. When he asked for cold water, they brought a bottle of frozen water and let it drip on his head.

"They said, `This is what you will have until you tell us where is Saddam Hussein,'" he said.

He said at other times, the interrogators took him to a "walking room," where he was hit whenever he stopped moving. At other times, he said they made him get down on his hands and knees and "hit me again for 40 minutes."

He said the treatment continued for two weeks and that the torturers permanently injured his hands by stepping on them when he kneeled to pray.

Testimony is expected to resume Wednesday, when Saddam is expected to face questioning from prosecutors.


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.