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2003-12-15

Iraqi Americans Rejoice Capture of Hussein But Speak Out Against Occupation

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We hear reactions from two Iraqi-Americans living in the U.S. on the capture of Saddam Hussein and we go to Baghdad to hear a report from CorpWatch’s Pratap Chatterjee. [Includes transcript]

U.S. forces say they have captured the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein after members of his extended family tipped off interrogators as to his whereabouts.

Hussein was found hiding in a tomb-like snakehole near a rural farmhouse near Tikrit. He was alone. He looked disheveled. He had grown a long gray beard. He had with $750,000 in cash and at least two AK-47s but U.S. forces say he did not put up a fight.

Hussein was captured at about 8:30 Saturday night Iraq time. But news didn’t break in the United States until Sunday morning. The head of the U.S. occupation in Iraq, Paul Bremer, held an early morning press conference. His first words were "Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him. The tyrant is a prisoner."

Soon, pictures of the captured Saddam Hussein appeared around the world. A video released by the Pentagon showed an American medical officer checking Saddam’s head for lice and giving him a brief medical exam. The Pentagon later released a photo of Hussein after his beard was shaven off leaving just his trademark moustache.

Time Magazine reports that Saddam agreed to talk to U.S. interrogators.

When officials asked Saddam if Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. He replied "No, of course not. The U.S. dreamed them up itself to have a reason to go to war with us."

Hussein was also brought to meet with several members of the Iraqi Governing Council, including Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress. The council members questioned him about his past war crimes. They said he remained defiant.

Council member Adel Abdul Mahdi said "When we asked him about the mass graves, he said the people in them were Iranian agents and thieves."

Chalabi said Hussein "would not apologize to the Iraqi people. He did not deny any of the crimes he was confronted with having done. He tried to justify them."

During a four-minute address to the nation Bush vowed that Saddam Hussein "will face the justice he denied to millions."

  • President George W. Bush addresses the nation hours after the announcement of Saddam Hussein’s capture on December 14, 2003.
  • Salam Al-Rawi, Iraqi American businessman who owns restaurants in New York.
  • Pratap Chatterjee, managing director of CorpWatch.org.
  • Anas Shallal, Iraqi-American living in the Washington D.C. area. He is a "Partner for Peace" with the Seeds of Peace program and one of the founders of the Mesopotamia Cultural Society.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go directly to Baghdad where Pratap Chatterjee is standing by, an independent reporter in Basra when the news was announced and has justly traveled to the Iraqi capital. Welcome to Democracy Now Pratap.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Thank you, Amy. I was in Basra when the news broke out in a hospital trying to get information about the victims degraded uranium. When the news broke, people rushed out in the — there were afraid there would be violence. At the same time, there was lots Of jubilation particularly in the south there was jubilation with the Shia and elements — the Shia being very opposed to Saddam. We saw a man —- the british troops -—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re having trouble hearing You. Pratap, we’re having some trouble hearing you… Keep going, but just be aware of that. Maybe somehow you can correct the sound.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Is it better?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. that is much better.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Okay. So, there was a lot of jubilation and dancing in the streets, but now back in Baghdad, there’s mixed feelings particularly in the neighborhood called Atamia where people have been traditionally been very supportive of Saddam Hussein.

There was a lot of anger right outside the hotel where I normally stayed. A passing man fired a gun at a truck with gasoline and blew it up. You can still see the black crater on the road. So, there’s a whole mixture of sentiments here. Some hope there will be less violence, but at the same time there are worries that people might take this to another level.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined in the studio by Salaam Al Rawi,he is an Iraqi- American restauranteur in New York. A number of his family members were killed by Saddam Hussein. Your response to the capture of Saddam Hussein this weekend?

SALAAM AL-RAWI: Well, you know, I had left Iraq in 1978, and up until the 1990’s when the Gulf War broke out, I lived with Saddam for 12 years in my nightmares. The news of his capture is — is a sense of relief, but you know, I just returned from Baghdad for two weeks visit, and nobody really talks about Saddam anymore. The topic is the security issue, is what’s going to happen next. It’s the unknown. People still fear the unknown and what’s coming up, and a lot of people still have the desire to leave the country. To them, it’s unbearable, not even mentioning the humiliation — the sense of humiliation they feel with the occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: The sense with the U.S. forces, the pictures that we’ve seen over the last 24 hours of Saddam Hussein coming out of this tiny pit. They say he had $750,000 American dollars, two AK-47’s. Yesterday on television watching a former government official saying he was a coward, that he didn’t commit suicide as he said perhaps that he would do, the administration holding back on revealing that they had Saddam Hussein, saying that they wanted it to look like an Iraqi victory not a presidential victory for George Bush.

Right now, we’re going to go for a minute to President Bush, and what he had to say yesterday to the American people, but a broadcast that was broadcast around the world.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH JR.: At around 8:30 p.m. Baghdad time, the United States military forces captured Saddam Hussein alive.

He was found near a farmhouse outside the city of Tikrit in a swift raid conducted without casualties. Now the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions. The capture of this man was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq. It marks the end of the road for him, and for all who bullied and killed in his name. For the Ba’athist holdouts largely responsible for the current violence, there will be no return to the corrupt power and privilege they once held. For the vast majority of Iraqi citizens, who wish to live as free men and women, this event brings further assurance that the torture chambers and the secret police are gone forever.

And this afternoon, I have a message for the Iraqi people, you will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again. All Iraqis who take the side of freedom have taken the winning side. The goals of our coalition are the same as your goals, sovereignty for your country, dignity for your great culture, and for every Iraqi citizen, the opportunity for a better life. In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over. A hopeful day has arrived. All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq. The success of yesterday’s mission is a tribute to our men and women now serving in Iraq. The operation was based on the superb work of intelligence analysts who found the dictator’s footprints in a vast country. The operation was carried out with skill and precision by a brave fighting force. Our service men and women, and our coalition allies have faced many dangers in the hunt for members of the fallen regime, and in their effort, to bring hope and freedom to the Iraqi people, their work continues, and so do the risks. Today on behalf of the nation, I thank the members of our armed forces, and I congratulate them.

I also have a message for all Americans, the capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq. We still face terrorists who would rather going on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East. Such men are a direct threat to the American people, and they will be defeated. We have come to this moment through patience and resolve, and focused action, and that is our strategy moving forward. The war on terror is a different kind of war. Waged capture by capture, cell by cell, and victory by victory. Our security is assured by our perseverance, and by our sure belief in the success of liberty and the United States of America will not relent until this war is won. May God bless the people of Iraq and may God bless America.

AMY GOODMAN: President George Bush speaking yesterday in talking about Saddam Hussein being captured by U.S. forces. You are listening to Democracy Now.

When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Salam Al-Rawi, and we will also speak with an Iraqi- American in North America and go to the Jordanian ambassador in the United States. He’s in Amman just having returned from the Arab League meeting in Cairo.

Later in the program, we’ll be speaking with the former U.S. Prosecutor in the Nuremburg trials after World War II. Stay with us.

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