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Hussein trial adjourns for 2 weeks

Ex-Iraqi leader conspicuously absent from Wednesday session

Saddam Hussein's chair sits empty as Wednesday's session gets under way without the former Iraqi leader.



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Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Iraqi High Tribunal on Wednesday adjourned the trial of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants until December 21, six days after the country's bellwether parliamentary elections.

Wednesday's session was delayed for about four hours after Hussein failed to appear in court.

It capped off three days of harrowing testimony from Dujail residents who were rounded up by government forces 23 years ago following a failed assassination attempt against Hussein.

The Monday and Tuesday sessions featured a defiant, quarrelsome, rambling Hussein and seven co-defendants who have been charged with crimes against humanity, including the 1982 killings of more than 140 men and boys in Dujail, a town north of Baghdad.

An empty chair

Hussein's chair was conspicuously empty on Wednesday. (Watch: Hussein is a no-show -- 2:03)

After a brief session behind closed doors, the trial resumed without Hussein present, and Hussein's chief attorney thanked presiding Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin for continuing.

The judge said Hussein would be informed about the proceedings taking place in his absence, and judges would meet with the defense team after Wednesday's session to discuss the security situation of the attorneys.

The testimony featured grim descriptions of mistreatment from two anonymous witnesses.

As the nine-hour court session drew to a close Tuesday, Hussein complained that he had worn the same clothes for several days.

"I will not be in a court without justice. Go to hell, all you agents of America," Hussein told the court. (Watch report of emotional testimony and Hussein's anger -- 3:19))

Return expected

The judge allowed Hussein's absence after hearing reasons for his not being there. The reasons were not made public.

Officials said Hussein is expected to be in the dock again when the trial resumes.

The complaints from Hussein about not being able to change his shirt and underwear paled in comparison with the treatment described in Wednesday's testimony.

Two men -- identified only as "Witness F" and "Witness G" -- testified from behind a curtain so they wouldn't be identified. They described many months of stark discomfort and brutality.

Witness F spoke of being blindfolded, handcuffed and beaten, and of experiencing thirst, hunger and tight confinement for months at intelligence headquarters in Baghdad and at the prison in Abu Ghraib.

He recounted how an Abu Ghraib inmate was tortured until he died.

Contradictions in testimony

Defendant Barzan Hassan al-Tikriti was present, the man testified. He said an interrogator asked al-Tikriti, Hussein's half brother and chief of intelligence at the time, what to do with him. The man told the court that al-Tikriti said, "We will benefit from him."

However, in a deposition read later in the proceeding, the witness had said he was told by someone else that al-Tikriti was present. Al-Tikriti objected that hearsay about his activities shouldn't be admissible in court.

On Monday and Tuesday, other witnesses testified about beatings, electrocutions and deaths in the government crackdown on Dujail, an action that took place when Iraq was at war with Iran.

Witness F, who said he had no idea why he was arrested, described small areas at intelligence headquarters packed with handcuffed, hungry and thirsty prisoners. The conditions were so crowded that inmates had to stay in a bathroom and alternate between standing and sitting.

He said some would come back from interrogation exhausted, with marks on their backs and unable to move. Requests for food prompted beatings, he testified. One prisoner was beaten after he told the guards, "Give us food or kill us," he added.

Testimony: Crowding, beatings common

The witness said families from Dujail were herded into rooms at the prison, where they were not allowed to sleep for more than three or four hours at a time. Beatings were common during the prison's exercise periods.

He said there was no doctor, only a guard with basic medical knowledge. "If we tell him we have a toothache, we'll be beaten on the tooth," he said. He called the winter conditions "unbearable."

During the session, al-Tikriti quarreled with Amin, the judge, and defended his own actions, saying he was responsible for protecting Hussein. He said that while he sympathizes with the witnesses, he and his fellow defendants now are being subjected to poor prison conditions.

Witness G also described stark conditions for himself and others in captivity and discussed beatings and deaths.

"People were sleeping over each other" and guards hit people with cables after ordering them to crawl, he said.

"If you don't get beaten one day for sure, you get beaten the other day," he said.

Witness: Prisoners called traitors

The roundups took place during the Iran-Iraq war, which raged throughout the 1980s. The witness said guards taunting the prisoners made reference to the Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini.

"They were calling us Khomeinis. They were calling us traitors," he said.

Shiites dominate in Iran, but Iraq, despite a Shiite majority, was run by a Hussein government that was partial to the Sunni Arabs. Dujail is mostly Shiite.

Fears of retribution by Hussein loyalists have 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.

CNN's Aneesh Raman and Nic Robertson contributed to this report.

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