US interrogators increase pressure on Saddam in preparation for possible trial

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The Independent Online

US interrogators are stepping up their pressure on Saddam Hussein, probing his involvement of the guerrilla insurgency against the occupying forces and seeking to prepare the ground for a possible war crimes trial.

Guided by documents found with the former Iraqi leader when he was captured, US forces have seized almost 80 people in raids in Samarra and elsewhere, including three former generals.

The arrests, by about 3,000 US troops, in a massive sweep code-named "Operation Ivy Blizzard", have helped uncover a well-funded resistance network, comprising up to 14 individual cells, officials say. Last night checkpoints had been installed on roads out of Samarra - about 70 miles north of Baghdad - as US troops and special units combed neighbourhoods for suspects.

It is understood that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam's former aide and sixth on the Pentagon's list of most wanted fugitives from the former Baathist regime, was not arrested. Douri is accused of masterminding many attacks on foreign troops and their Iraqi collaborators, which have killed about 195 US servicemen since George Bush ended major combat operations in May.

The documents suggest clearer links between Saddam and the continuing violence than had been suspected. The US military believed that Saddam's reduced circumstances and his desire to avoid capture, led to a limited role, more as symbol of the resistance than its planner. If he was among the co-ordinators, there could be repercussions for his own status. The Pentagon says he is being given the protection entitled to a prisoner of war under the Geneva conventions. But if Saddam proves to have been involved in the post-war attacks, he would be indistinguishable from those being held in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, with no legal rights.

The US is questioning Saddamin the Baghdad area - possibly at the compound at the capital's airport where other high-value targets are detained. Interrogators are said to be showing Saddam videotapes of executions of prisoners, mass graves of victims of his regime, and demonstrations against him after US and British forces conquered the country.

The goal, according to USA Today, is to test Saddam's honesty by measuring his answers against facts already known, and to prompt an unguarded statement that may help prosecute him in the war crimes trial that now seems certain.

Saddam's reactions to the tapes are being minutely scrutinised - "every sweat gland, word and twitch" - an official told the newspaper.

They are also being compared with psychological profiles of him prepared by the CIA.

The trial's forum and scope is already the subject of heated debate. After President Bush said the former dictator deserved "the ultimate penalty," death penalty opponents around the world expressed their opposition. The United Nations, the Vatican and many countries say Saddam must not be tried by a court that could sentence him to death.