A Former Prisoner of Saddam's, on His Execution

Melissa Block talks with Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al Shahristani about last week's execution of Saddam Hussein and the world-wide publicity generated after his execution was posted on the Internet. Shahristani, a nuclear engineer, was held prisoner under Saddam's regime for 11 years, a time in which he was also tortured.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There were protests in parts of Iraq today, Sunnis outraged over the execution of Saddam Hussein. They say the former dictator was mistreated by guards overseeing his hanging. A mob of Sunnis broke the locks on the Shiite Golden Dome Mosque in the city of Samarah. There was a report of a prison riot in the city of Mosul. And Iraq's government is now investigating how Saddam was treated on the gallows.

Iraq's Oil Minister, Hussain al Shahristani, says it was time to execute Saddam Hussein.

Mr. HUSSAIN AL SHAHRISTANI (Oil Minister, Iraq): All the Iraqi people have been waiting for this day for over three decades now. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families have lost their dear ones and they've been looking for justice.

- Shahristani says it was time to execute Saddam Hussein.

Mr. SHAHRISTANI: More of the Iraqi people have been waiting for this day, for over three decades now. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families have lost their dear ones. Some have been looking for justice. And they have been very patient while Saddam was tried, and the people have been waiting for it.

BLOCK: You were, yourself, a prisoner under Saddam Hussein for 11 years, were subject to torture while you were in prison. I imagine that must color your view of what's happened here.

Mr. SHAHRISTANI: Well, I don't personally have any grudges against him. As a matter of fact, I was invited to be a witness and I declined. I did not want any personal revenge upon Saddam. But I do understand the feeling of the Iraqi families who could not forgive him.

On the day of the execution, I want to just meet the people. I met a lady who has lost six of her sons and she said she can never forget her sons. She's been waiting for this day for 50 years. So I can understand how the people felt, but personally, I don't have any grudges against him. And I never wanted even to be a witness.

BLOCK: The scene at the execution as it has been captured on cell phone video shows the scene that degenerated into a sectarian free for all in some ways. There was taunting by Shiites in the execution chamber, people chanting the name of the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the trapped door underneath the gallows opened while Saddam was in the middle of reciting a prayer. What do you make of how the execution was carried out, the climate in which it was carried out?

Mr. SHAHRISTANI: I've seen what you have just described. There was only one person among the guards, not the representative of a government, nor the court, nor the darker or the clerics that were there. It was just one of the guards who misbehaved. And I understand that he's going to be held accountable for that. But I don't think we should judge the whole procedure by the misconduct of just one individual, and he was just a simple policeman in the area.

BLOCK: Do you fear that because of what happened in that execution chamber, the sectarian element with what was going on that, that will further enflamed tensions?

Mr. SHAHRISTANI: I don't believe so. As a matter of fact, that day was calmer than usual. It is wrong to associate Saddam with the Sunni community in Iraq. The Sunni community has suffered under the Saddam, I wouldn't say as much as the Shiites or the Kurds, but they've also suffered significantly. So to associate Saddam as representative of the Sunni community is not fair to their community.

But in Islam we do have respect for the dead, and that's what the government felt should be done. He should be given to his family to bury him. And let's not forget Saddam never handed bodies to their families. There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqi families don't know where their loved ones are buried. At first when I was taken to court under Saddam, I witnessed tens and sometimes hundreds of people sentenced to death in five minutes and they were executed the next day without any opportunity of an appeal or any lawyer appealing to be sending them or anything of that. So the treatment that Saddam was given, can't be compared by any stretch of imagination with what he was doing to the Iraqi people.

BLOCK: Hussain al-Shahristani is Iraq's oil minister. Dr. Shahristani, thanks for being with us.

Mr. SHAHRISTANI: Thank you very much.

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