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WAR WITH IRAQ / DIPLOMACY

Bush, Aides Focus on Hussein's Atrocities

March 30, 2003|Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Seeking to counter wrenching images of Iraqi civilians killed and wounded, allegedly by U.S. airstrikes, the Bush administration stepped up its attack Saturday on Saddam Hussein's human rights record.

In his radio address, President Bush drew a stark contrast between "the cruel nature of a dying regime" in Iraq and the "kindness and respect" of U.S.-led troops who "are going to extraordinary lengths to spare the lives of the innocent."

At the daily Pentagon briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Clarke took the unusual step of airing documentary footage of interviews with victims of Hussein's atrocities, offering graphic accounts of torture. Clarke said she decided to show the footage to underscore the nature of the Iraqi regime.

"That was my decision to show those clips," Clarke said. "There is report after report, news story after news story, documentation by the human rights organizations for years about the atrocities of this regime." But some questioned her use of the video in what was supposed to be a question-and-answer session on military operations.

"It seems to me a stretch to open up a briefing in such an emotional way," said Laird Anderson, a communications professor at American University and a retired Army colonel. "We have to be careful.... We can present the facts as we know them and the facts will speak for themselves."

Clarke said people are "seeming to have a hard time understanding" the Hussein regime.

"I try to make it clear," she said.

Bush did not mince words in his radio address.

"The contrast could not be greater between the honorable conduct of our liberating force and the criminal acts of the enemy," the president said. He cited the case of an Iraqi woman reportedly hanged for waving at U.S.-led troops, and the executions of prisoners and of Iraqi soldiers who refused to fight.

"In the area still under its control, the regime continues its rule by terror," Bush said.

A Newsweek poll conducted Thursday and Friday finds that 70% of Americans approve of the way the president is handling the war while 74% believe that the administration has a well thought-out military plan. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Still, Americans believe that the war will have negative consequences for the U.S. About three-quarters believe that it will lead to terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests, the poll found, while 68% believe that Baghdad will order the use of chemical or biological weapons.

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Times staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.

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