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Thursday, December 18

Saddam's life and defiant reputation at stake

By Greg Barrett | GNS

WASHINGTON -The arrest of Saddam Hussein might not fully sap his power. The Pentagon's prize prisoner has a storehouse of intelligence that he could guard with his life - or attempt to trade for it.

By all accounts the former Iraqi dictator is a shrewd survivalist, evidenced by his thuggish reign of three decades, his escape of U.S. assassination attempts, and his first words uttered Saturday after he was captured.``I'm Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq, and I'm willing to negotiate,'' soldiers involved in the capture quoted Saddam as saying in English, according to Maj. Brian Reed, operations officer for the U.S. Army's 1st Brigade.

But whether or not Saddam will negotiate for his life or try to burnish his defiant image remains to be seen. Former CIA profiler and psychiatrist Jerrold M. Post, who twice testified before Congress about the psyche of Saddam, is betting on the latter.

TV images Sunday of a compliant dictator emerging from a hideout were anomalous, he said.

``That was a temporary breakdown in his psychological defenses. ... His name in history is perhaps more important to him'' than his life, Post said. ``The Saddam I have come to know and understand has a grand defiant facade and major psychological vulnerabilities.''

CIA interrogators are more likely to get details of Iraq's weapons program, insurgents' plans against occupying forces and Iraq's knowledge of terrorist groups by stroking Saddam's ego and getting him to boast than by offering bargains or making threats, Post said.

``He can't be broken in the conventional sense of the word,'' said Post, author of ``The Psychological Assessment of Political Leaders,'' which profiled Saddam. ``I would not think that anything we can give him - life in prison instead of capital punishment or the protection of his family - would have much of an impact.''

Plus any agreement between the CIA and Saddam to spare the dictator's life would likely anger Iraqis who have been oppressed and brutalized during the reign of Saddam's Baath Party. There is considerable zeal to prosecute the man believed to have ordered the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish alike.

When members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi governing council were asked this week about the possibility of executing Saddam, there was no ambiguity.

``He should be resurrected hundreds of times and killed again,'' said council member Mouwafak al-Rabii, a human rights activist imprisoned under Saddam.

President Bush said this week that Iraqis would be allowed to decide the fate of Saddam in a forum that could withstand international scrutiny. But he stopped short of endorsing the new Statute of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, the governing council's blueprint for trying war criminals that was completed three days before Saddam's capture.

Legal scholars who have reviewed the thick document said it allows for the death penalty, a punishment barred in international tribunals such as those at The Hague in the Netherlands.

The Iraqi statute borrows generously from international law - the presumption of innocence, the right of appeal, the freedom to choose counsel - and allows for the involvement of international advisers and judges.

``Prosecuting Hussein before an Iraqi tribunal raises concerns about whether the process can be fair and impartial, but this directive goes a long way toward answering those concerns,'' said Sean Murphy, a George Washington University law professor who has argued cases for the U.S. government at The Hague.

Murphy does not think the United States will try Saddam in the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague, like former President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia. Milosevic is defending himself against charges of war crimes committed in the Kosovo war.

In his trial, Milosevic has accused the United States and NATO of violating international law in the 11-week bombing campaign of Serbian forces. But his charges against the United States have not resonated beyond Serbia.

Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner expects Saddam will behave similarly and smear the U.S. government for any role it might have played in Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980.

``The Iranians are already calling for us to be on the docket with Saddam,'' said Turner, a retired Navy admiral who led the CIA under President Carter. ``But giving advice to a dictator is not the same as doing the terrible things he did. ... Our hands may be dirty, but they are not on top of the graves.''


(Contributing: Steven Komarow, USA TODAY.)