Baghdad, Iraq Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants declared in court Tuesday 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," Saddam told the judge as he walked into the courtroom. The former Iraqi leader was dressed in a crisp black suit and 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 Saddam and his entourage to violence inflicted on the villagers of Dujail following a 1982 attempt to assassinate Saddam while he visited the town. Three witnesses compelled to testify repeatedly contradicted written statements collected earlier by lead investigative judge Raad Juhi, the young lawyer who has become the public spokesman for the Iraqi High Tribunal.
After a session that barely lasted 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 voiced frustration at its slow pace and a feeling that the judges don't appreciate the financial and human resources expended on proceedings that simply drag on.
Three defendants - Saddam, his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and former judicial chief Awad Hamed al-Bandar - said they were on a hunger strike.
Juhi, speaking to reporters after the court adjourned, declined to confirm or deny whether any defendants were refusing to eat, but pointed out that Ibrahim had brought bottled water into the courtroom.
The proceedings have been conducted with court-appointed defense attorneys since defense lawyers walked out of the courtroom several weeks ago. Defendants, some of them disheveled, were ordered to appear Monday in the courtroom.
The prosecution team alleges that Saddam 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 regime loyalists prosecutors have compelled to take the witness stand over the past two days have not corroborated prosecution claims or verified documents they had signed.