An ex-security officer has testified Thursday in ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's trial that his superiors ordered troops to forcefully disperse Egyptian protesters with tear gas, but he never heard orders to shoot at the protesters.
Mubarak and his security chiefs are facing charges of complicity in the deaths of protesters, a charge that could carry the death penalty. Many Egyptians have been clamoring for the conviction, and even execution, of the 83-year-old Mubarak, reflecting widespread anger not only over the deaths of about 850 protesters, but also a reputation of corruption, police brutality and abuse during his nearly 30-year rule.
So far, testimony from witnesses has caused embarrassment to the prosecution. One witness was even briefly detained Wednesday on perjury charges for changing his story under oath, denying he had any knowledge of police receiving ammunition. The judge later released him without an explanation.
On Thursday, Maj. Gen. Hassan Abdel-Hameed, who was first deputy interior minister for training under Mubarak, told the court that some policemen opened fire to break up the mass protests that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11.
Abdel-Hameed, who has not been charged in the case, later told The Associated Press that during a security meeting, his superiors also ordered police to break up the rallies with armored vehicles ahead of one of the deadliest days during the uprising. He did not say that in court.
Abdel-Hameed's testimony was less definitive. He presented recorded TV footage as evidence of use of force against protesters. When pressed by the defense lawyers, he said only tear gas was part of the security plan.
He told AP he was ridiculed by his seniors when he objected to the use of force.
"I told the minister if we use force, we will be met with even more force," he told AP. "The police made many mistakes in dealing with the protesters. It got involved between the regime and the people." He made similar statements in court.
Prosecutors need to prove a clear line of orders from Mubarak and others allowing the use of lethal force. Otherwise, their lawyers can argue that other top police officers acted independently in killing protesters.
If the trial brings evidence of a direct order from Mubarak for lethal force to be used, that would boost pressure for a death sentence if convicted. But if responsibility is seen as less direct _ such as a failure to try to stop killings _ a conviction would likely bring a lighter sentence.
Mubarak has denied any responsibility for himself or his security forces.
The judge has summoned the top members of Egypt's ruling military council to testify, but in closed sessions. Egyptians hoped to hear their testimony, expecting the top generals would detail their ousted leader's role in putting down protests Testimony from the military council leaders is set to begin behind closed doors on Sunday.