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Monday, December 15

Caution urged on trial of Saddam

By Brian Tumulty | GNS

WASHINGTON - President Bush pledged Monday he will work with Iraqi's fledgling government in coming up with a way to try former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein that will withstand international scrutiny.

"We want the world to say, well, this: He got a fair trial,'' Bush said at a White House news conference. ``Because whatever justice is meted out needs to stand international scrutiny. I've got my own personal views of how he ought to be treated, but that's - I'm not an Iraqi citizen. It's going to be up to the Iraqis to make those decisions.''

Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac, cautioned that the United States should to keep in mind the future stability of Iraq in deciding how to deal with Saddam.

``What we want to come out of any trial is a sense of closure and a sense of transition to a new government for Iraq,'' Petri said. ``If we focus on the past and revenge, it begets more revenge.''

Petri recalled how Japanese Emperor Hirohito escaped criminal punishment at the end of World War II as a way of helping to maintain the peace in Japan.

After the surrender of Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur decided to allow Hirohito to keep the symbolic title of emperor, although Hirohito later renounced his position as a religious deity.

Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said he saw an important difference between Japan at the end of World War II and present-day Iraq.

``They kept the cult of the emperor in place in place for some time, and I don't expect that to happen in Iraq,'' he said.

Kind agreed that Saddam's punishment might be determined in part on his future cooperation, rather than solely on his past crimes.

``He could be incredibly helpful in terms of the location of resistance troops and weapons of mass destruction,'' Kind said. ``But it's important for the Iraqi people to sift through this themselves.''

President Bush expressed doubts that Saddam would be helpful in providing information.

``He is what he is: He's a person that was willing to destroy his country and to kill a lot of his fellow citizens,'' Bush said. ``He's a person who used weapons of mass destruction against citizens in his own country. And so it's - he is the kind of person that is untrustworthy, and I'd be very cautious about relying upon his word in any way, shape or form.''

Bush said he had his own opinion on whether Saddam should be sentenced to the death penalty, but only alluded to his thinking by describing Saddam as a brutal dictator. The president said Iraqis should make the decision.

The way Saddam was found over the weekend - U.S. Army troops were following a tip - is a good sign that Iraqi citizens have begun to trust the occupying forces, Petri said.

``Iraqis now know they can talk to someone among the Americans,'' Petri said. ``I think it will embolden Iraqis to be more cooperative.''