WASHINGTON – Iraqis who said they were beaten, imprisoned and lost loved ones at the hands of Saddam Hussein's government shared their stories Wednesday with President Bush, who said the former Iraqi president "will get his due justice."
There was an emotional atmosphere in the hourlong meeting, participants said, as Bush went around a table in the Roosevelt Room asking each of roughly a dozen Iraqis to tell their experiences. Bush said they told "stories of sadness and stories of bravery."
"One of the interesting moments will come here this year when Saddam Hussein's trial is brought forth for the world to see, to see the butcherer, the person who brutalized many people or ordered the brutality of many people here at this table, get his due justice under rule of law," the president told reporters brought in for two minutes at the end of the meeting.
Saddam and seven co-defendants are on trial for the deaths of more than 140 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail in 1982. The trial recessed on Dec. 22 after two days of testimony and is scheduled to resume Tuesday. Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.
Raid Mohammad, who sat at Bush's right arm during their meeting, said he permanently left Iraq on the advice of his father, an outspoken journalist who was repeatedly imprisoned by Saddam's government. The father was kidnapped in 1981 and his body was left on the family's doorstep three days later, Mohammad said.
"I always say the best thing that have ever happened to Iraq in the last 30 years is the removal of Saddam," Mohammad, who now lives in Austin, Texas, told reporters as he left the White House. "But the scariest thing is that within three years, I can see and I can feel that some of those who were brutalized by Saddam started to feel nostalgic for the days of Saddam. That is the most dangerous scenario."
The White House denied that the meeting was meant to deflect criticism of the administration in an annual report from Human Rights Watch issued Wednesday.
The report said the Bush administration has a deliberate strategy of abusing terror suspects during interrogations. The White House accused the organization of having a political agenda and ignoring the fact that the United States has liberated millions from tyranny.