WASHINGTON (BP)–The capture of Saddam Hussein, President Bush said Dec. 15, means the end of excuses for Iraqis who have opposed the peace process. Because the cruel dictator can never again rise to power, they should no longer live in fear, Bush said in a news conference.
“That’s the most important thing about this capture,” Bush noted. “He can no longer provide any excuse for some who were afraid to act.”
Iraqis “can now focus with confidence on the task of creating a hopeful and self-governing nation,” Bush said. “With the capture of the former dictator, the enemies of a free Iraq have lost their leader, and they’ve lost any hope of regaining power. The nightmare of the Baathist tyranny is finally over.”
In regard to a trial for Hussein, Bush emphasized that he expects a fair trial that will stand international scrutiny. He also made clear the United States will yield to Iraqis in delivering justice to the brutal dictator.
“I’ve got my own personal view of how he ought to be treated, but I’m not an Iraqi citizen,” he said. “It’s going to be up to the Iraqis to make those decisions.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, agreed with the president that the most important part of Hussein’s capture is that the Iraqi people are free to fully endorse democracy.
“The most critical significance of the capture of Saddam Hussein is that for 35 years this man has terrorized the people of Iraq as a matter of policy,” Land said in a statement to Baptist Press. Almost everyone in Iraq is aware “of someone they know personally who has been tortured or killed by this evil regime. It was state policy under Saddam to emotionally terrorize and traumatize the whole society.
“As long as there was any possibility he would return to power, no matter how remote it seemed, it placed severe limits on the amount of cooperation that many Iraqis would be willing to give to the attempts to rebuild Iraq as a democratic society,” Land continued. “Now that the ominous, psychological specter of his return has been removed, it will be far easier to get large numbers of Iraqis to support a new democratic regime in Iraq.”
Land also noted Hussein’s capture will make it more difficult for his fanatical supporters to carry on the Saddam myth.
“He didn’t die heroically, as he urged his supporters to do,” Land said. “He didn’t do anything but meekly surrender in his rat-hole, where he was cowering in fear. It is difficult to imagine an image less heroic.”
The former Iraqi dictator was captured alive by U.S. forces Dec. 13 in the town of Adwar, 10 miles from his hometown of Tikrit.
Video and pictures of Hussein broadcast across Iraq and worldwide showed a bearded, disheveled 66-year-old; his heavy, black-and-gray beard subsequently was shaved, and those images also were broadcast. U.S. officials described Hussein as cooperative when he was captured, but much less so the next day. Procedures are not yet in place for Hussein’s trial on Iraqi soil for war crimes stemming from the deaths of as many as 1 million Iraqis under his regime over the years.
Samuel Shahid, professor of Islamic Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said Hussein should be tried in Iraq by Iraqi lawyers and judges as a model for their future. If Hussein were to be tried elsewhere by an international tribunal, Shahid said, Iraqis would likely view it as a move designed to squelch someone who resisted imperialistic Western powers. The United States should not give Hussein any ammunition to position himself in the eyes of his supporters as a victim of western imperialism, the professor added.
“Ultimately, though, my hope is that the people of Iraq will discover the source of real peace in their lives,” Shahid said. “This is a different kind of peace than what many are now seeking. It comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, who has promised His followers a deep and lasting peace.”
Hussein’s capture was announced by L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,” a momentous announcement met with cheers at a Dec. 14 news conference in Baghdad.
“The tyrant is a prisoner,” Bremer said.
Fruitful efforts by military intelligence led to Hussein’s capture with two aides at 8:30 p.m. local Iraqi time by about 600 4th Infantry Division and special operations forces. He was described as hiding in an 8-by-10-foot-wide, 6-to-8-foot deep “spider hole” compartment with an exhaust fan at a rural farm residence. He was carrying $750,000 in U.S. currency and his mode of transportation while on the run apparently had been a white-and-orange taxicab.
The U.S. military since has arrested several resistance leaders in Baghdad based on documents found when Hussein was captured. Some documents detailed a meeting of resistance cell leaders and included their names.
The former dictator has provided only defiant and unhelpful answers during his interrogations. When asked about weapons of mass destruction, Hussein asserted that his country had no such weapons and the United States invented the charges to justify an invasion of his country.
President Bush, addressing the nation shortly after noon on Dec. 14, said, “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.”
Speaking to the Iraqi nation, Bush said, “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. …
“I also have a message for all Americans: The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq,” Bush said. “We still face terrorists who would rather go 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.”
“Today is a great day for the Iraqi people and the coalition,” Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez told the news conference in Baghdad. Sanchez described Hussein as “a tired man, also a man resigned to his fate.”
“This is very good news for the people of Iraq,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a statement Dec. 14. “It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime. This fear is now removed.”
Blair also stated, “Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq.”
On the streets of Baghdad, crowds of Iraqis celebrated, firing guns and throwing candy into the air, singing and dancing and driving their cars shouting the news while radio stations played celebratory music.
Compiled by Erin Curry & Art Toalston, with reporting by Tom Strode & Brent Thompson. The full text of President Bush’s Dec. 14 statement follows:
“Good afternoon. Yesterday, December the 13th, at around 8:30 p.m. Baghdad time, 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. And 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 Baathist 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 servicemen 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 go 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’ve 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. Thank you.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRESIDENT ON JUMBO-TRON and PRE-KICKOFF CELEBRATION.