- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

LONDON (AP) The British government accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday of masterminding the widespread and systematic torture of his political opponents and other citizens to hold on to power.
But some commentators dismissed the evidence in the dossier presented by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as old news and part of a propaganda war to back up the case for possible U.S.-led military action in Iraq.
"I think that this highly unusual, indeed unprecedented, publication is cranking up for war," said Tam Dalyell, a lawmaker from the governing Labor Party.
The dossier includes the story of Um Haydar, a 25-year-old woman who was dragged from her house and publicly beheaded in 2001 after her husband, suspected by the authorities of involvement in armed opposition activities, fled Iraq. Guards took away her children and mother-in-law, and they have not been heard from since, the dossier said.
Straw said the 23-page government report showed that the Iraqi people lived in fear and that Saddam's regime was in breach of its international obligations.
"By disarming Iraq, we not only help those countries in the region which are subject to Iraqi threats and intimidation, we also deprive Saddam of his most powerful tools for keeping the Iraqi people living in fear and subjugation," said Mr. Straw.
The dossier, entitled "Saddam Hussein: Crimes and Human Rights Abuses," includes intelligence material, firsthand accounts of Iraqi victims of torture and oppression, and reports by non-governmental organizations.
"The dossier makes for harrowing reading, with accounts of torture, rape and other horrific human rights abuses," Mr. Straw said in a speech to the Atlantic Partnership, a group that works on improving relations between Europe and North America."It makes it clear these are carried out as part of the deliberate policy of the regime. The aim is to remind the world that the abuses of the Iraqi regime extend far beyond its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in violation of its international obligations."
Legislator George Galloway, whose visits to Iraq and dogged opposition to U.N. sanctions have earned him the nickname "the MP for Baghdad West," said there was no doubt the Iraqi regime was guilty of gross human rights abuses, but that the report had vested interests.
"There is torture and murder in Iraq, but that isn't a reason per se for going to war and killing tens of thousands," Mr. Galloway said.Britain and United States have warned they may take action if Baghdad holds back any information or fails to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors, who recently returned to the country.
Amnesty International, one of the non-governmental organizations whose research was quoted in the dossier, warned that the human rights situation in Iraq should not be used for political ends.
Amnesty said the United States and other Western governments turned a blind eye to reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
"As the debate on whether to use military force against Iraq escalates, the human rights of the Iraqi people, as a direct consequence of any potential military action, is sorely missing from the equation," the statement said.
Even an Iraqi scientist asked by the Foreign Office to provide details about abuses was critical of possible military action against Iraq."I'm extremely concerned of the consequences of this intervention to the Iraqi people," said Hussein Al-Shahristani, a former expert with the Iraqi atomic energy organization. Al-Shahristani has said he was held in solitary confinement for 11 years for refusing to work on Saddam's nuclear weapons program.
"I'm concerned that weapons of mass destruction, the chemical weapons in particular, could be used again by the regime against the people if they show any opposition or uprising," he added.
According to the dossier, Iraq is a "terrifying place to live" where "arbitrary arrests and killings are commonplace."
Political dissidents are tortured, women lack basic human rights and are routinely raped by security personnel while in custody, and political prisoners are kept in inhumane and degrading conditions, the report said.
It details Saddam's persecution of Iraq's ethnic Kurds and the Shiite religious community and provides a checklist of methods of torture, including eye gouging, electric shock and piercing hands with electric drills.
"Saddam Hussein has been ruthless in his treatment of any opposition to him since his rise to power in 1979," the report concluded. "A cruel and callous disregard for human life and suffering remains the hallmark of his regime."

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