BAGHDAD - Saddam Hussein said he was not afraid to die and aggressively took on the court trying him today, bullying a witness who described the horrors of his rule, including a meat grinder for human flesh.
In a defiant display, Saddam interrupted the judge, ridiculed the prosecutor and at times smirked with derision as he dismissed evidence against him with angry gestures.
"You can't go on playing these games," said Iraq's former dictator, who had repeatedly interrupted witnesses and the judge. "If you want my neck you can have it."
At one point Saddam yelled at one of two witnesses who testified: "Don't interrupt me, boy."
The chief judge eventually called a halt to proceedings. A court official said the trial would resume on Tuesday.
It ended a highly charged session in which two men became the first witnesses to face the deposed dictator in court.
Ahmed Hassan, 38, recounted how he and his family were seized and tortured after a 1982 attempt on the ousted leader's life in the Shi'ite Muslim town of Dujail.
Hassan, who risked reprisals by letting his face appear on television as he gave evidence, said they were taken to an intelligence building in Baghdad run by Barzan Ibrahim al- Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and former intelligence chief.
Barzan, one of eight men charged with crimes against humanity, yelled at Hassan: "He should act in the cinema."
Saddam and his co-defendants are charged with killing 148 men from Dujail after the assassination attempt.
Hassan's testimony brought the charges chillingly to life after chaotic procedural wrangling during which former U.S. attorney-general Ramsey Clark led a defence walkout over threats to the lawyers and a challenge to the legitimacy of the court.
"I swear by God, I walked by a room and ... saw a grinder with blood coming out of it and human hair underneath," Hassan told the court. During the testimony, Barzan, sitting behind Saddam in the dock, interrupted Hassan, shouting: "It's a lie!"
Hassan said: "My brother was given electric shocks while my 77-year-old father watched ... One man was shot in the leg ... Some were crippled because they had arms and legs broken."
The trial began on October 19 but was swiftly adjourned for 40 days to give the defence more time to prepare and again last week to let two of the defendants find new attorneys following the killing of a second defence lawyer last month.
Other trials over the oppression of Shi'ites and Kurds by Saddam, who is from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, are expected to follow.
In his testimony, Hassan described seeing Barzan in Dujail on the day of the attack in July 1982, wearing red cowboy boots and blue jeans, and carrying a sniper rifle. He said Saddam was there as well, and related an episode involving a boy of 15.
"Saddam said to him, 'Do you know who I am?'" Hassan said, adding that when the boy answered "Saddam", the president picked up an ashtray and hit him across the head.
As he listened to the testimony, Saddam sometimes chuckled. Later, his chief lawyer, Khalil Dulaimi, argued with the witness and accused him of lying, saying he'd implicated a former government minister who had died in 1979.
As the bespectacled Shi'ite prosecutor was asking questions, Saddam's temper flared. "Hey, you in the glasses, don't you recognise your leader of 30 years?" he shouted.
The second witness in the case, Juwaad al-Juwaad, said his 16-year-old brother was detained and executed after the assassination attempt in Dujail.
Defence lawyer Dulaimi asked the witness how he could possibly identify anybody when he was aged only 10 at the time.
Barzan stood up and yelled across the courtroom and then hit guards with his notebook as they tried to subdue him.
Up to nine more witnesses are due to testify in the coming days. Most will be hidden behind a screen or will not appear on camera to protect their identities, officials have said.
Hassan's testimony followed a near-farcical few hours when Saddam's defence team first stormed out of the court and then returned 90 minutes later to challenge its legitimacy.
The walkout was lead by Clark, a veteran defender of unpopular high-profile causes, and was joined by Najeeb al- Nauimi, a former justice minister of Qatar.
As they stormed out, Saddam shouted that the court was "Made in America" and then: "Long live Iraq!"
Behind him, Barzan chorused: "Long live Saddam." He added: "Why don't you just execute us and get this over with?"
Clark and Nauimi returned after receiving assurances that they would get time to address the court. They then assailed it for not protecting the defence team better, and impugned the legitimacy of a tribunal at first formed under US occupation.
"There is virtually no protection for the nine Iraqi lawyers and their families who are heroically here to defend truth and justice," said Clark, 77, citing two defence lawyers shot dead shortly after the trial began.
Kurdish chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin listened and then cut Clark off after five minutes, before granting Nauimi 15 minutes. Nauimi launched into an impassioned indictment of the tribunal, saying it was illegal under international law.
The sometimes chaotic scenes added to concerns the court is not ready for a trial that cuts to the quick of today's sectarian tensions, a week before parliamentary elections.
A senior United Nations official told Reuters he doubted the proceedings could ever meet international standards.