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Saddam Hussein to Get Fair Public Trial, Vows Bush - 2003-12-15

President Bush says Saddam Hussein will face a fair public trial. Mr. Bush says he will work with the Iraqi people to determine the best way to try their former leader, who was captured by U.S. forces on Saturday.

The president said Saddam Hussein will get a fair hearing. "We will work with the Iraqis to develop a way to try him that will withstand international scrutiny. I guess that is the best way to put it," he said.

Speaking at a White House news conference, Mr. Bush said he does not trust the ousted Iraqi leader, and does not believe he will tell the truth in court. When asked if Saddam Hussein should face the death penalty, the president did not answer directly. "I have got my own personal views on how he ought to be treated," he said. "But I am not an Iraqi citizen. It is going to be up to the Iraqis to make those decisions."

The president opened the session with reporters by reviewing all his foreign and domestic accomplishments of the year, and looking forward to 2004. But most of the questions dealt with Iraq and the dramatic capture of Saddam Hussein in a raid on a farmhouse near his hometown of Tikrit.

Once again, Mr. Bush praised those involved in the military operation, and warned that risks lie ahead. But he was firm when he assured the people of Iraq that the days of the Baathist regime are over. "Iraqi citizens have lost a source of fear. And they can now focus with confidence on the task of creating a hopeful and self-governing nation," he said.

The president said Saddam Hussein was willing to destroy his own country, and the world is better off now that he is in custody.

Since word of the capture was made public Sunday, Mr. Bush has spent considerable time on the phone with other world leaders. But as his news conference came to an end he reflected on one very personal call, a conversation with his father, the former President Bush, who waged war against Saddam Hussein more than a decade ago, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. "It was a very brief conversation. He just said congratulations and it is a very great day for the country. And I said it is a greater day for the Iraqi people," he said.

The president said he told his father that America is now more secure, but the Iraqis suffered the most during the three decades their country was ruled by Saddam Hussein.