The U.S. State Department Thursday criticized media coverage of Saddam Hussein's trial in Iraq, saying his courtroom outbursts are getting more coverage than the testimony of his victims. Officials reiterated that Saddam Hussein's complaints of mistreatment by U.S. jailers are "bogus."
Officials here rarely engage in media criticism. But they are making clear their frustration over the latest coverage of the Saddam trial, which they say has focused on the Iraqi leader's courtroom "grandstanding" rather than the compelling testimony about human rights abuses by his regime.
Trial proceedings this week were punctuated by outbursts by the deposed dictator, who claimed that American jailers had beaten and tortured him and said that U.S. officials who denied the charges were liars.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack again dismissed the allegations of mistreatment as "bogus," and said media coverage focusing on Saddam Hussein's remarks detracts from the real story, which he said has been the "horrific" courtroom accounts this week of his regime's brutality.
"Saddam Hussein was one of the most violent mass murderers of this century or any other century," he said. "And what you have now is an opportunity for the victims of Saddam Hussein to detail the tyranny, the oppression, the brutality, the violence of this regime. That's what's on trial here - not the U.S. government, not the new Iraqi government. It's Saddam Hussein. And that's where the focus should be frankly."
Prosecution witnesses this week described how Saddam Hussein's security forces carried out widespread killings and torture in the northern Iraqi town of Dujail following an assassination attempt against him there in 1982.
The former dictator and seven officials of his regime are being tried for crimes against humanity stemming from the Dujail events.
Spokesman McCormack said he understood why reporters were raising questions about Saddam Hussein's mistreatment charges.
However, he said it is "a disservice to the world" that equal or more coverage has not gone to victims' testimony, which has included graphic accounts of executions and torture, including security men pouring molten plastic on their captives.
Mr. McCormack dismissed suggestions Iraqi courtroom personnel might be losing control of the trial, which he said is unfolding consistent with international standards.
The United States has heavily underwritten the prosecution of Saddam Hussein and other regime members.
The Iraqi judges and prosecutors received training from court officials, academics and non-governmental organizations from several countries, including the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Italy.
But a number of other European countries refused to support the process because Saddam Hussein and other defendants could face the death penalty if convicted.
In a Washington speech earlier this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was saddened by the lack of support. Ms. Rice said the international community's "effective boycott" of the trial is only harming the Iraqi people, who she said are working now to secure the hope of freedom and justice that Saddam Hussein had denied them. I
Some international human rights groups have questioned whether the court can provide a fair trial, and doubt its legitimacy because it was established during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
The trial, which opened in October, was adjourned Thursday and will resume January 24 after the year-end holidays and the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.