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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 12:06 GMT
Saddam Hussein interview: Your verdict
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has denied any links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in an interview on British television.
"If we had a relationship with al-Qaeda, and we believed in that relationship, we wouldn't be ashamed to admit it," the Iraqi leader said.
He also denied possessing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
"These weapons do not come in small pills that you can hide in your pocket," he said.
The interview was conducted by former British MP Tony Benn, who visited Baghdad last week.
What did you think of the interview?
Thank you for your e-mails. This debate is now closed. A selection of your comments is published below.
I am surprised that many people disapprove of the principles of freedom of speech and justice, entailing that even the worst of criminals should be able to present his case. This is the cornerstone of any democratic society.
I respected Tony Benn in the past but he is a habitual oppositionist in danger of becoming a bore. Maybe now he is no longer an MP, he wants to get back into the limelight. Instead, I think it's time he went on an extended fishing trip. And anyone who believes one word Saddam says is either naive or stupid.
As an Iraqi I am angered that Tony Benn chose not to mention Saddam's human rights abuses and history of crimes in his interview. Why is it that he talked passionately about the sanctions, which have indeed cost the lives of thousands of Iraqis, but doesn't ask Saddam about the massacre of Halabja, or the invasion of Iran and Kuwait?
Tony Benn is a hero. The international coalition for peace needs faces to stand up and denounce the mind-boggling logic of war. Interviews with the super-villains fight the war-mongerers only weapons, ignorance and paranoia and therefore contribute to restore equilibrium and a sense of reality to the public mind.
How anyone can believe a paranoid man that kills his own relatives because of their "wrong opinions".
Daniel M, Birmingham, England
Saddam's remarks are about as believable as Bush, Powell and the rest of them over here. What did anyone expect Saddam to say anyway?
If the point of the "interview" was to give Mr. Benn a platform for his views (developed prior to the "interview"), then I guess it achieved its purpose. Mr. Benn had his platform. There could be no other point. This wasn't about what Saddam Hussein had to say, because he is utterly unbelievable. I still am completely amazed a leader can invade a country (Kuwait)- and get off with the world equivalent of a slap on the wrist. After Hitler's army was pushed across the Rhine, everyone should have stopped - given him 12 years of sanctions - and decided that was enough. We put simple drug dealers in prison for longer than that! Yet people like Mr. Benn give him a platform. Amazing.
Tony Benn is an embarrassment to the British political establishment. He shows us that some British politicians have come no further than Neville Chamberlain over 60 years ago. What a pity, what a failure.
Saddam's interview by Mr Benn and telecast by Channel4 is worth receiving credit and appreciation. At least he approached Saddam. If this could have been done earlier by Blair or Straw, life would have been much easier and better than going along with Bush.
As far as the interview is concerned it was far better than the evidence show presented by Powell.
Abu Talib, Iraq
While I agree that Tony Benn should have been more confrontational in his questions to Saddam, he should be applauded for giving Saddam the opportunity to speak to the Western world. Yes, it may or may not be lies, but how can we judge if we have not heard him directly? Well, now we have.
I doubt anyone opposed to the war has any support for Saddam. I certainly don't. For this reason the 'interview' is an irrelevant sideshow. In any case, one would hardly expect Saddam to be candid even if Paxman took him to task. Of course, the same is true of Blair and Bush. I would much rather see Bush meeting Saddam.
Peter McWilliams, Ireland
I have never seen quite a display in my life as seeing Mr Benn leaning forward with compassion with one of the world greatest butchers. I do not know Mr Benn but if he had any credibility before he certainly does not now. He shall always be remember as the man that warmed himself to the devil because they have an enemy in common.
Right on! Tony Benn should be the next resident of 10 Downing St! You are an asset to your countrymen, and showed great courage to talk and work with some peaceful solution dialogue with Iraq! Tony, you have better leadership skills than PM Blair! Thank you too for helping to stop a war, possibly!
This is pretty well undisputed. But why shy away from the fact that Saddam is a monster? People are increasingly sophisticated. They can see the shades of grey in their own arguments as well as in those of others. Why did Mr Benn not confront Saddam about the gassing of the Kurds and human rights abuses? Why can he not be forced to confront his actions by the people who should be the most vociferous in condemning them?
I thought Michael Jackson had a far rougher ride than Saddam.
I am working in Vietnam, where the chemical agents dropped by the US resulted in the birth of tens of thousands of severely disabled children and Napalm burnt thousands of innocent people to the bone. To me these facts illustrate the hypocrisy of the US to preach about human rights abuses.
Tony Benn's interview is sentimental and he has been criticised for failing to ask some hard questions. However, let us focus on the utter horror of war - I think a little sentiment is justified. It is true that the hard questions need to be debated but I don't think this was the aim of his interview. If nothing else, he helped spread the message that most people in the world want to see a peaceful outcome to this situation. And for this Tony Benn should be commended.
Thomas Threlkeld, United States
This interview reads like an Iraqi newspaper article written by Saddam's son. I can't remember the last time I've read such "softball" questions clearly intended to provide Mr Hussein with a platform. Why didn't we ask what happened to all the weapons we know exist, or where is the proof that Iraq has destroyed its arsenal?
This guy spoke like the Pope, but his history of death and destruction, even against his own people is unmatched in the world. As for the Iraqi people, I have had the honour of speaking directly with numerous Iraqi people, and they are all praying for liberation from this man. They would not lack for food, or medicine if Saddam would spend 10% of his nation's oil wealth on his people, instead of his palaces.
The word 'softball' has been used many times to refer to Benn's interview of Saddam Hussein. Undoubtedly, it was not an aggressive, searching interview. It is totally unrealistic to expect such an interview in a society which has no culture of free speech and journalistic independence. How different was the tone of Benn's interview from those conducted by the Washington press pack when interviewing Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld? It is clear we need greater journalistic independence, access and rigour - but on all sides of the debate!
Something tells me Saddam would not have any qualms about telling a fib, so the interview means very little. However, it would be wrong to attack Iraq. It was right to go into Afghanistan, because the threat from there was direct, and had already taken effect.
The peace lobby seems to be confusing support for Saddam with opposition to a war, they are very different. They must not destroy their cause by allying themselves to a dictator. Remember that Saddam initiated a war of aggression only 12 years ago against Kuwait and also used nerve gas against his own people. Hardly a great spokesman for the global peace movement.
The "interview" beggars belief - Mr Benn has a history of being one of the awkward squad but this really takes the biscuit. It reminds us of the cowardly approach taken by Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938 and then look what happened. A simple look at Saddam's body language and Benn's slavish acceptance of the drivel fed by him just about said it all. Remember Edward Heath and the human shield children in 1991? I actually have had great respect in the past for Tony Benn for his principles, regardless of political viewpoint, but
he has done no favours for anyone on this one, least of all himself.
It is unbelievable, given new information from House of Lords member Baroness Emma Nicholson concerning Saddam Hussein's recent orders to support his build-up of weapons of mass destruction, that anyone in the world would believe anything this tyrant says for public Western consumption. Does the British press have no shame, in running his fabric of lies?
I think Mr Benn has made no attempt conceal the fact that he is not out there searching the truth but rather waging a anti-war propaganda. And it is a good thing to do!! That's why he chose and didn't choose the different questions. It doesn't matter if he believes Saddam. I think his point is that whatever we do, war is not the way to do it. I am thankful that at least some people remember the preamble of the UN Charter.
Come on Tony this emotional rhetoric impresses no one - don't appease the mass murderer any more. Listen to the Jordanian Foreign Minister (yes really!) instead who only last week categorically said that Bush should NOT back down and insisted that Saddam is the only one who can avoid war by complying with 1441.
An incredibly interesting interview, however, I am shocked at the responses of people on this website - they say this is propaganda but then what is all the nonsense that Bush and Blair spout? First weapons of mass destruction. Then, when they couldn't find any, al-Qaeda links. How convenient! This is propaganda in its extreme, to persuade the public that Saddam is this massive threat to us. I'm sorry, but our biggest threat is from people infuriated into terrorist attacks because of this outrageous and totally unprovoked war. How inhumane.
David Tod, England
Iraq is no threat to the West, it may become a threat in the future if we do go to war. A war may serve as a "springboard" for US imperialism to become morally accepted. Tony Benn is not Anti-American, he is a socialist, and hence anti-Bush. There is a difference between the two and we need people like Tony Benn to illustrate that.
"All my good friends are telling me I'll be ripped apart and called a stooge of the Iraqis, but I would never forgive myself for not trying to bring back something that could stop this war."
And how his friends have been proved right!
I don't agree with war. However, I do think Saddam has pushed the UN a bit too far. He needs to be removed. If it takes a war to do that, I will support it. If it take a political assassination, I would support that, too.
After watching the interview, it has to be said that the term "useful idiot" is not even close to doing the likes of Tony Benn justice. The MP's anti-Americanism is so deep and virulent that he is simply not able to bring himself to condemn Saddam Hussein, a tyrannical mass-murderer, for anything. He was simply the performing monkey in Saddam Hussein's organ grinder act. Pathetic.
Saddam Hussein is not convincing in his attempt to deflect accusations that Iraq has ties to al-Qaeda and possesses weapons of mass destruction. He says he wouldn't be ashamed to admit he had a relationship with al-Qaeda. If in fact he did have one, such an admission would warrant an attack. Weapons are to big to hide? Still not convincing me that it can't be done. If David Copperfield can make the Statue of Liberty disappear, hiding warheads shouldn't be that hard to do.
Saddam speaks to the global community as if we have confidence and trust his word. Saddam's interview should warrant the same condemnation received by Bush and Blair over their "lack of evidence".
Guy Hammond, England
Tony Benn MP, has achieved something that no other level-headed MP or statesperson would dream of, and that is to provide a badly-timed sounding platform for a globally distrusted dictator who habitually lies and uses such media platforms to fulfil his own ambitions and argument. Mr Benn is not Mr Carter and if this was done to satisfy My Benn's personal ambitions and revive his hitherto drab political career then all of us lose.
I welcome Tony Benn's efforts to provide a more open and informed debate on the emotive subject of war by presenting Saddam's opinions. However, his words should be taken in the context that he is a proven liar and hypocrite with a strong incentive (i.e. his life) to deny any links with Al Qaeda and possessing weapons of mass destruction.
The most amazing thing I thought was Tony Benn's refusal to answer any of the questions put to him by the Channel 4 News interviewer. Even when confronted with the question as to why he did not ask Saddam about him using chemical weapons, he still blamed it on the Americans. For crying out loud Mr Benn, when will you realise that this is the real world, and problems like Saddam that threaten world stability must be stopped!
John Ballantyne, UK
Just seen it. A strange sense of deja-vu. Then I realised where I'd seen it before. It was the infamous Maxwell/Ceaucescu interview back in the 1980s. Bin it.
At least Tony Benn is doing every thing he can to avoid a war, unlike Bush and Blair. No one in the peace movement is conned by Saddam. Nor are we conned by our own government.
Saddam would of course say that he has no link with al-Qaeda or possesses WMD. The problem is, can we believe him? Can we believe either side in this conflict? I surely don't. The war will go ahead unless Saddam and Bush use the grey matter in their possession wisely. Neither has as yet shown that to be possible.
Adrian Smith, Wales
I thought he was much more credible than Bush and Blair. It seems that Saddam has learnt the ways of the West and he's using the same tactics as our 'leaders'.
I've heard many words by both Bush and Saddam, but I'm still waiting for the hard evidence from either side.
John, UK, is right. Hundreds of thousands - and indeed probably millions - of lives will be lost unless we do or do not accept the word of one liar against another ?
I am not aware that I have ever heard a lie from the Pope, from Nelson Mandela or from Kofi Annan.
If people want to find out the truth, then they will have to listen to those who have been truthful in the past. If not, then they should themselves be more honest about actually wanting a war - and stop pretending that there is a search for anything other than an excuse for starting it.
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