"The White House are liars. They said Iraq had chemical weapons. They lied again when they said that what Saddam said was wrong," he told the court in Baghdad trying him on charges of crimes against humanity.

He was speaking as the court began its seventh day of hearings since the trial began in October.

Thursday's session, expected to be the last for the year, will hear from more witnesses offering testimony on torture under the former regime.

In Wednesday's session the former Iraqi leader sought to turn the tables on his captors saying his American jailers had beaten and tortured him.

"I have been hit by the Americans and tortured," Saddam told the court. "Yes, I've been beaten on every place of my body and the signs are all over my body."

Jaafar al-Mousawi, the chief prosecutor said he would investigate and that if American-led multinational forces had abused Saddam, he would be transferred into the custody of Iraqi troops.

In Washington, Sean McCormack, the state department spokesman, described Saddam's claim as "highly ironic" and said he knew of nothing to substantiate it.

"Look, he's been given to grandstanding in this trial, but where the focus should be is on the testimony of those people who were victimised," McCormack said. "That's what people should be listening to."

Just three of the four prosecution witnesses scheduled to give evidence on Wednesday had time to take the stand before the presiding judge adjourned the session at 8.40pm (1740 GMT).

Saddam, 68, on trial for mass murder, has been detained by US forces since his capture two years ago.

'Brave men'

"Our enemy is not the American people. Our enemy is the American government which is destroying Iraq," Saddam said.

He also described fighters resisting the US forces' presence in the country as "brave men", adding that they were doing "good work".

Nevertheless, in one of the more conciliatory statements he has made during the trial, he said those guilty of the alleged torture described by the witnesses should be punished, apparently distancing himself from the accusations.

Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti angrily
denied all charges against him

"When I hear that any Iraqi has been hurt it hurts me too," Saddam said. "The wrongs that were done to those people were wrong and, according to law, those who did it should get what they deserve."

He had boycotted the last hearing two weeks ago after denouncing the legality of the tribunal and telling the judge to "go to hell".

Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother who on Wednesday was accused of supervising torture sessions after an assassination attempt against Saddam in 1982, told the court that his hands were "as clean as those of Moses".

"This hand has committed no crime," he said after a witness, who testified from behind curtains to preserve his anonymity, said he was tortured with electricity while Barzan looked on, eating grapes.

Saddam and seven of his associates, including Barzan, who at the time was in charge of the secret police, are being tried over the killing of 148 Shia civilians from the village of Dujail, north of Baghdad in the 1980s.

Prosecutors say Saddam ordered the killings in reprisal for
a failed attempt to assassinate him in the village in 1982.

Abu Ghraib prison

The witness said that during one torture session "Barzan was there eating grapes and I was screaming".  He said he was arrested, along with his family, a day after the assassination attempt.

"Barzan was there eating grapes and I was screaming"

Unidentified witness

The witness said he was tortured while being held for 17 days at the Dujail intelligence centre where he identified the bodies of two of his sons whom police alleged were involved in the assassination plot.

The witness and his family were later transferred to Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad where they spent 14 months before being exiled to a desert area.

During his detention in Abu Ghraib, prison guards repeatedly abused the prisoners and beat them, the witness said.

'Dripping in blood'

Another witness, who testified earlier in full view of the cameras and witnesses, said "t
hey would take one of us away and he would return in a sheet, dripping in blood".

Al-Haidari: Barzan was involved
in detainee interrogation

Ali Mohammed Hassan al-Haidari, who was 14 at the time, said he was locked up with hundreds of others in the local intelligence headquarters after the government's clampdown.

Saddam and his co-defendants have all pleaded not guilty to charges including murder and torture but face the death penalty if convicted.

Al-Haidari said he recognised Barzan, who at the time was in charge of the secret police and who, he said, was involved in interrogating detainees.

Denial

Barzan angrily denied being involved in torture and accused the witness of lying.

"I will call my own witness whose shoe is more honourable than you and your tribe. You dog!," he shouted at the witness.

Addressing the presiding judge, Barzan also accused witnesses of "singing the same song", repeating similar accusations using similar words.

"It's your duty as president of this court to convince me I'm guilty," he said.

Defence concerns

All eight defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry the death penalty.

Earlier, Naji al-Nuaimi, the Qatari lawyer on Saddam's defence team, complained again about lack of security for the attorneys.

Al-Nuaimi complained of a
deficiency in security

"We cannot continue with this case if there is deficiency in security," he said.

"We were threatened at the airport and later put up in a house with no door to the lavatory."

Two defence lawyers were assassinated shortly after the start of the trial on 19 October.

The trial is not expected to extend past Thursday when it is likely to be adjourned again until mid-January because of the announcement of Iraq's election results, holidays and the Haj, the annual pilgrimage to Makka.