- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

President Bush’s supporters think Saddam Hussein’s trial will remind Americans of why the president ousted the Iraqi dictator by force and will put into context the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

After being pilloried for more than a year for not discovering stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, which was a main rationale for war, Bush supporters are quietly relieved by the prospect of a public trial that will examine the full scope of Saddam’s brutality.

“As people are reminded of what Saddam Hussein’s regime was like — the danger he posed not only to the people of Iraq but to the people of America — it reinforces just how much progress we’ve made,” said Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman.

A senior administration official suggested that the trial will subsume the debate over weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

“There are still some who argue that it was not the right thing to overthrow him,” said the official, who added that he tells such people: “Put aside the WMD, and go look at the mass graves.”

Vice President Dick Cheney was clearly pleased when the first televised images of Saddam’s arraignment were broadcast yesterday morning. He later gave a speech at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, which he last visited on April 9, 2003 — the day Saddam’s statue was toppled in Baghdad.

“Today, 15 months later, Saddam Hussein stands arraigned in an Iraqi court, where he will face the justice he denied to millions,” he said, drawing applause.

“This is a proud moment for the United States,” he added. “We pledged to end a dangerous regime, to free the oppressed and to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people. And we have kept our word.”

At the White House, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan emphasized Saddam’s human rights abuses over his weapons of mass destruction program.

“The president is pleased that Saddam Hussein and his regime leaders are facing justice from the Iraqi people in an Iraqi court,” he said.

“Saddam Hussein’s regime was responsible for the systematic terrorizing, torture, killing and raping of innocent Iraqis,” he added. “And this step today begins a process by which the Iraqi people can help bring closure to the dark chapter of their history.”

Mr. Mehlman emphasized that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction program was only one of many reasons for his removal.

“Any time that anybody, whether it’s at a trial or anywhere else, talks about Saddam Hussein’s regime, you can’t not talk about the brutality,” he said. “You also have to talk about his association with and support for terrorists and his invasion of his neighbors.

“All these are the reasons it was so important for the president and the coalition to remove Saddam Hussein and replace him with an independent sovereign regime,” he added.

Yet in the weeks and months before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, the administration rested most of its case for war on the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

Although Mr. Bush later acknowledged that he had been deeply troubled by Saddam’s human rights abuses, he said he doubted whether those abuses alone would justify war.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said earlier this year that the administration had originally considered passing U.N. Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and Saddam’s links to terrorism, but only went forward with the weapons resolution because other nations showed little interest in the other two.

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