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Iraqi Justice: 'My Lawyer Asked the Judge to Sentence Me to Death'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2003 – Abumuslim Al-Hayder was a political prisoner in Iraq before Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq in 1979. In fact, he was among those Hussein gave amnesty to after taking over the government.

"He tried to show the world he was going to change the political climate in Iraq, so he released almost all the political prisoners," said Al-Hayder, who was among nearly 300 Iraqi-Americans and recent immigrants at a town hall meeting in Dearborn, Mich., where Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was keynote speaker Feb. 23.

The political prisoners had to sign papers pledging they wouldn't participate in political activities. Al-Hayder said he signed, but later went back on his word.

"My family and I participated in the uprisings in 1991," said the former university professor, who has been in the United States since September 1992. "So they're going to execute me if they catch me. I took my family and escaped. I came as a refugee because of Saddam's vicious acts."

Al-Hayder said he'd been tortured and sentenced to death by a military court before receiving amnesty.

"It's not a real court -- 'revolutionary court,' they call it. It's a special court and their decisions are final, no appeals," he said. "You don't even have a right to bring your lawyer. They assign a lawyer for you. The prosecutor is a general, and your lawyer is a general. So both of them actually asked the judge to sentence me to death. And he did, because even my lawyer asked him to sentence me to death. All of them belong to the government."

Asked his thoughts about the potential war between the U.S.-led coalition and Iraq, he said, "I think they're going to remove Saddam. The point is not only removing Saddam, I want them to go after him as soon as possible.

"I don't want only to get rid of Saddam. I want Americans to help us get rid of his entire regime," he said. "I hear there's a plan for members of the Baath Party -- Saddam's party -- to rule after Saddam with the help of some leaders from the opposition. We don't want Baath Party members to rule again because this is a regime. All Baathists are educated in the same way; they have the same mentality as Saddam. They're killers. They don't believe in human life; they torture people. They are, in general, vicious."

Al-Hayder said he's not advocating killing all the Baathists. He wants to educate them, hoping to change their mentality.

"They're Iraqis, and we have no problem with that. We have problems with their behavior, not with them as humans," he said. "If they behave as human beings, they're part of us."

He said Iraqis know Saddam and his regime are part of terrorist organizations. "They're working together because they have the same goal -- to destroy humanity, human relations, democracy, freedom," Al-Hayder said. "They don't want people to be free. They want people to be slaves to their ideas. They want to control people. This is why Saddam is building his power -- his mass destruction weapons."

Asked if he plans to return to help rebuild Iraq after Saddam's departure, he said, "I'd like to go to Iraq now. This moment! I'd be active in both phases -- the liberation and the rebuilding phase. And not only me. I can assure you all the people sitting here in this room are willing to be active in both phases."

Hasan Asady, vice president of the Iraqi Human Rights Society, said the Hussein regime killed about 16 of his family members because they belonged to the opposition. A member of the Iraqi National Congress for more than 12 years, he worked with opposition groups in southern Iraq.

"We're sorry about Sept. 11, and we're still paying for that economically. We lost jobs because of that," said Asady, who came to the United States about two years ago to escape Hussein's regime. "We support the United States in its efforts to cut the head off terrorists."

Muath Abed Alrahim said he also supports U.S. actions to remove Saddam Hussein. "There's no choice, no other alternative," said the former director of Iraqi news in Baghdad. "He's a dictator and they can't remove him peacefully -- only by force. You must get the Iraqis involved."

Alrahim wants to return to Iraq and to his former job as news director. "I have to go back to Iraq to take my political role in Iraq," he said. "We need to talk more to the American media to give more support to the American military."

After translating for Alrahim, Safaa Almayahi said he would take the first plane to Iraq to help rebuild the country after Saddam is gone.

"I would like to see in Iraq more political parties so people are allowed to choose their representative," said Almayahi, a former university professor who has been in the United States four years. "I want Iraqis to have our human rights so we can talk and go anyplace without being harassed because of your race, religion or your thoughts. That's what I like here in America."

During his opening remarks, Emad Dhia, president emeritus of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, which sponsored the Dearborn meeting, said, "We're looking forward to building a long-term strategic relationship with the United States based on principles of mutual interest and respect. We pledge to our fellow Americans and to all peace-loving nations of the world that the new, free Iraq will be neither a safe haven for terrorists groups nor a provider of financial or moral support.

"This is another step toward the defeat of international terrorism," he said.

Abdulrasul Al-Haydar said more than 15 members of his family, including his grandfather, were killed by Saddam Hussein. "I met President Bush when he was campaigning for the presidency," Al-Haydar told Wolfowitz. "I brought it to his attention that, 'When your father liberated Kuwait, he didn't finish the job. He should have went further and remove Saddam from power.' He smiled and indicated that he would finish the job. I hope today that he will be able to finish that job."

He said he met with Bush at the White House last November and, "I indicated that he should not bow to any pressure by the international society for any reason to leave Saddam alone. Saddam is cancer, and he has to be removed. If we don't do it today, we may have to deal with him again in five or 10 years."

Al-Haydar grilled Wolfowitz about Washington Times and New York Times stories about America installing an American general to rule Iraq.

"You just assured us that there would be democracy," he said to the deputy secretary. "What are your comments about those reports about another dictator ruling Iraq? I assure you that all the people here won't be willing to see another Saddam replacing a Saddam. Or another dictator replacing a dictator."

"My first response is, don't believe everything you read in the newspapers," Wolfowitz said. "But this isn't a joking matter. It's absolutely clear to the president and all the rest of us that if we invest the kind of resources and risk American lives to liberate Iraq, it's not going to be handed over to some junior Saddam Hussein. It has to be for the goal of democracy.

"We don't want to stay there any longer than we have to," Wolfowitz emphasized. "The key to getting us out quickly is for the Iraqis to come together quickly in a spirit of unity, harmony and understanding the importance of having a democratic country. We'll be there for as long as it takes, but we don't want to be there a minute longer than that."

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