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Officials Discuss Saddam's Fate One Day After Announcement of Capture - 2003-12-15

One day after the United States announced the capture of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the top issue has become what to do with him.

As U.S. interrogators continue questioning Saddam Hussein at an undisclosed location, President Bush told reporters in Washington he would be skeptical of anything the former Iraqi dictator had to say.

"He's a deceiver. He's a liar. He's a torturer. He's a murderer," said Mr. Bush. "I can't imagine why he would change his attitude, since he'll be treated humanely by [the] U.S. coalition, U.S. troops."

When asked if he felt Saddam should be executed, Mr. Bush did not answer directly.

"I've 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."

But the President said Saddam would get a fair trial in Iraq.

"Of course, we want the world to say, you know, he got a fair trial," he said. "Because whatever justice is meted out needs to stand international scrutiny."

Speaking from London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he sees no need for Saddam to be tried by an international tribunal.

"Of course we should make sure that there is a proper and independent and fair process, but I am quite sure the Iraqis have the capability of doing that," commented Mr. Blair. "We and other countries will work with them to make sure it is correct."

Asked if Saddam should face the death penalty, Mr. Blair said Iraqis should decide what punishment is appropriate. Britain and other countries in the European Union have outlawed the death penalty and have vigorously opposed executions abroad.

In the Middle East, Hossam Zaki, spokesman for the Arab League, said despite any atrocities Saddam committed, the organization's 22 members also expect him to be treated fairly.

"The United States, now that it has him [Saddam] in custody, will have to be very cautious in how to treat him and what kind of laws it applies on him because this all has to do with the message the United States wants to get out in the Arab street, whether it is a force for justice or a force just for the sake of it," he added.

U.S. authorities have said Saddam is a prisoner of war, and therefore will be treated according to the Geneva Conventions. International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal said this means his organization expects to be invited to see him.

"We will not consider the case of Saddam Hussein any differently from the case of any other prisoner of war or civilian internee," he said. "People who are protected by the Geneva Conventions have the right to be visited by the ICRC. We take this obligation on us extremely seriously."

In Iraq, U.S. troops took foreign journalists to see the small underground room near Tikrit where Saddam was captured Saturday.

VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu said the entrance was literally a hole in the ground.

"The soldiers discovered a cloth carpet covered with dirt," she said. "Pulling the carpet back, they found a Styrofoam panel that plugged a hole leading to a tiny chamber, just large enough for a man to squeeze into."

Major Brian Reed says Special Forces soldiers peering down into the hole saw a wild-looking man with an unkempt beard who addressed them in English.

"He said, 'I am Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq and I want to negotiate.' And the response from the U.S. troops was, 'President Bush sends his regards.'"

President Bush said he had a simple message for Saddam - good riddance.