White House Won't Condemn Saddam Taunts
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; 2:06 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration sent conflicting signals Wednesday about the taunting and baiting that accompanied Saddam Hussein's execution, with the White House declining to join criticism of the procedure and the State Department and U.S. military raising questions about it.
"The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad," deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said. "Prime Minister Maliki's staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we'll leave it at that."
Stanzel said the U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq had expressed concerns about the timing of Saddam's execution and later about "the process and what took place."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday that U.S. officials questioned conducting the execution on a Muslim festival day and as well as some procedures, such as who would be signing certain documents.
He said Iraqis had raised questions about "comments made by people in the room" during the final minutes before the execution and are conducting an investigation into tape made on a cell phone that got out.
"Clearly they didn't approve of that," McCormack said. He added, "Nothing that was done in any way should detract from the fact this was a very solid criminal procedure."
Iraqi state television broadcast an official video of Saturday's execution. The video had no audio and never showed Saddam's actual death. But a leaked cell phone video showed the deposed leader being jeered in his final moments, with witnesses shouting "Go to hell!" before he dropped through the gallows floor and died.
The unruly scene was broadcast on Al-Jazeera television and was posted on the Internet, prompting a worldwide outcry and big protests among Iraq's minority Sunnis, who lost their preferential status when Saddam was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003. Britain's deputy prime minister, John Prescott, called the leaked images "unacceptable." The Vatican labeled the footage a "spectacle" violating human rights.
In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the U.S. military spokesman, said the execution of Saddam Hussein would have gone differently if U.S. officials _ not Iraqis _ had orchestrated it.
"Would we have done things differently? Yes we would have. But that's not our decision. That's the government of Iraq's decision," Caldwell said.
He said the United States had nothing to do with the facility where the execution took place.
"We were not involved in any searches of any people, we had nobody present," Caldwell said. "We did not dictate any requirements that had to be followed. This was a government of Iraq decision on how that whole process went down."
The White House, while declining to characterize Bush's reaction to taunting, worked to reshift the focus of the debate onto the execution of Hussein, not how it took place.
"The most important thing to keep in mind, this is a guy who killed hundreds of thousands of people and received justice," White House press secretary Tony Snow said. "He got justice."
Al-Maliki on Tuesday ordered his Interior Ministry to investigate the video _ who made it and how it reached television and Web sites for public viewing. An adviser to Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the person believed to have recorded the execution on a cell phone camera was arrested Wednesday.
AP Diplomatic Writer Barry Schweid contributed to this report from Washington.