Seven Iraqis who were mutilated while imprisoned under Saddam Hussein visited the U.S. Congress Tuesday to urge lawmakers and the American people to stay committed to establishing democracy in Iraq. The seven men say Americans should not be discouraged by recent developments in Iraq.
All of the men were arrested in Baghdad while Saddam Hussein still held power, accused of illegal trading in foreign currency.
After a trial lasting only 30 minutes, each was sentenced to a year in prison, and ordered to have their right hands amputated, a procedure that took place in Abu Ghraib prison.
The seven are Qasim Kadhim, Laith Aggar, Al'aa Hassan, Basim al-Fadhly, Nazaar Joudi, Salah Zinad, and Hassan al-Gearawy.
The story of the seven men came to the attention of Don North, an independent American television producer, who was in Iraq.
Using connections, he located a well-known surgeon in Houston, Texas, Joseph Agris, who eventually performed surgery on the men, giving them advanced prosthetic hands.
Last month, the seven men were part of a delegation of Iraqis who suffered under Saddam Hussein, that met with President Bush for 45 minutes at the White House.
The men say there was nothing political about that, adding that their main reason, other than medical, for being in the United States has been to express thanks to the American people.
Hassan al-Gearawy, who now lives with his family in the Netherlands spoke.
"I would like to give special thanks to the mothers of the victims [of U.S. soldiers] who gave their lives for our freedom," he said. "And I wish a quick recovery for all of those who were injured among the coalition forces. Without them, we would not be living now."
Reporters asked Mr. al-Gearawy and others their opinion of the difficulties President Bush faces as a result of declining public approval ratings, largely due to the situation in Iraq.
Al'aa Hassan, a junior high school teacher in Iraq, says while there are many negative things happening now, Americans as well as U.S. media, should not lose sight of the positive.
"There are certain problems here and there," he said. "But let us look at the whole picture. We hope that America's assistance will continue, with increased understanding with the Iraqi people."
Another member of the group is Basim al-Fadhly, now a reporter and producer for Iraqia Television. He says Iraqis should not make the mistake of squandering what they have gained by the ouster of Saddam Hussein:
"Iraq should preserve its victory over him," said Basim al-Fadhly. "And this should be done through reconstruction. For this reconstruction to occur people of goodwill should be there and people who are honest also should be there. We don't need people, Baathist people, ex-Baathists, or people from the previous regime, or terrorists, who do not want to see Iraq free and democratic."
Mr. al-Fadhly says Iraqis are, in his words, fearful elements of the old regime may take over a new Iraqi government, but says he is confident Iraqis want a bright future and focus on reconstruction.
Republican Congressman Dan Burton appeared at the news conference with the Iraqis. He says while those in the U.S. military responsible for abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison will be brought to justice, their crimes should not obscure the violence that took place under Saddam Hussein.
"What happened in that prison with our troops was nothing compared to the terror that was perpetrated on the people of Iraq," he said. "They [the seven men] were imprisoned for well over a year, and then they had their hands surgically removed. This is just a small manifestation of the atrocities that were perpetrated by Saddam Hussein during his regime."
Don North, the producer of the documentary on the seven men, called Remembering Saddam, is still trying to persuade U.S. television and cable networks to air the story, which has been shown on television in Iraq.
In its original form, the documentary includes video footage, said to have been ordered by Saddam Hussein himself, of the amputations performed on the seven Iraqis when they were in Abu Ghraib prison.