When Ahmed Hassan Mohammed al-Dujaili took the stand as witness No. 1 in the trial of Saddam Hussein last December, he might have thought his worst nightmares were behind him. On a summer afternoon in 1982, two days after gunmen in his town opened fire on a presidential motorcade, Ahmed and all the other males in his family were rounded up by Saddam's Special Republican Guard. Ahmed and three of his 11 brothers were eventually released; the rest disappeared. Two years later, Saddam signed execution orders for six of Ahmed's brothers; a seventh died during interrogation. They were among the 148 men and boys Saddam is accused of ordering killed in retaliation for the assassination attempt. Ahmed says that when he recounted those horrors in court, he looked over at Saddam. The deposed dictator stroked his beard, looked Ahmed dead in the eye and ran his forefinger across his throat.
Since then, the nightmare has returned to Dujail. Ahmed believes that Saddam's throat-slitting gesture, made while television cameras were rolling, was a message to loyalists to kill Ahmed's family. Two of his cousins were kidnapped in July and haven't been heard from since. On Aug. 6, his brother Ali Hassan Mohammed al-Dujaili, another witness, was attacked in the middle of Dujail. Ahmed's nephew Husam was killed while protecting Ali. When Ahmed's younger brother Jaafer came to collect Husam's body, a sniper lying in wait put several bullets in Jaafer's legs. Jaafer lived but will always walk with a severe limp. He is among the lucky ones. The town's mayor, Haji Mohammed Hassan al-Zubeidy, says some 180 people have been murdered in Dujail since Saddam's trial began in October 2005. Basam Ridha, adviser to the Prime Minister for the Saddam trial, puts the number closer to 200. About 80 more have vanished while traveling on the road between Dujail and Baghdad. "Have you ever heard of the Bermuda Triangle?" asks Mahmoud Hussein al-Hesreji, chief of the Dujail city council. "It's just like that."
On Oct. 16, a five-judge panel will deliver a verdict on whether Saddam and his regime carried out the original 148 killings in Dujail. If convicted, he will face the death penalty. That trial, as well as a second one focused on the massacre of Iraqi Kurds in 1988, has been taking place inside the heavily secured Green Zone, where a succession of judges have given the former dictator the kind of hearing he never afforded his victims. But for many others associated with the trials, there has been no refuge from assassins who take justice--and revenge--into their own hands. Shi'ite death squads have murdered defense lawyers, while ex-Baathists have targeted the families of prosecutors and judges. The brother-in-law of Mohammed Oreibi al-Khalifa, the second trial's presiding judge, was gunned down last week in Baghdad. If putting Saddam on trial is intended to help Iraqis bury the demons of his murderous rule, the spate of vendetta killings has served as a reminder of the unchecked mayhem that has followed it.