WASHINGTON – The White House dismissed accusations from Saddam Hussein (search) on Thursday that President Bush was "the real criminal," and heralded Saddam's arraignment as an important step forward for Iraqis.
In a court appearance in Baghdad, Saddam rejected charges of war crimes and genocide, telling a judge "this is all theater, the real criminal is Bush."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan brushed off reporters' questions about Saddam's remarks, the first words heard from the former Iraqi leader in months.
"I'm sure Saddam Hussein will continue to say all sorts of things," McClellan said. "What's important is that Saddam Hussein and his regime leaders are going to face justice from the Iraqi people before an Iraqi court. This is an important step that will help the Iraqi people bring closure to the dark past of Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship."
McClellan said it would be more worthwhile to listen to Saddam's victims and their relatives.
Bush is "pleased Saddam Hussein and his regime leaders are going to be brought to justice by the Iraqi people for the atrocities the regime committed," McClellan said.
McClellan said that by late Thursday morning, Bush had not seen the video of the former Iraqi leader during his 30-minute arraignment. But the president planned to watch the clips as they were replayed, McClellan said.
The spokesman noted that the Iraqi people, not the United States, would be trying Saddam, who twice during his arraignment declared, "I am Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq."
McClellan said the arraignment itself was evidence of a new Iraq. "I think what you're seeing is, from the court itself, that justice and the rule of law are part of the new Iraq," McClellan said.