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Iraqis Maimed by Hussein to Visit Senate Luncheon

In an effort to reinforce the details of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, Senate Republicans today are set to meet seven Iraqis who were tortured and mutilated nine years ago in Abu Ghraib prison.

Once imprisoned at the site of more recent allegations of prisoner abuse by American and allied forces, the seven Iraqis had their right hands chopped off for the Saddam-era crime of handling U.S. currency. They met with President Bush in the Oval Office last week and will attend today’s weekly luncheon of the Republican Steering Committee, Republican aides said.

Conservatives in the Republican Conference said the meeting was not an attempt to diminish the significance of the alleged crimes by U.S. troops at the notorious prison last fall. But they added that the meeting should drive home the point of how brutal Hussein’s reign was.

“It’s important for Republican members of the Senate not to lose sight of the brutality of the regime that’s been replaced,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), chairman of the Steering Committee, the conservative caucus of GOP Senators.

“We need to remind people what we’re fighting for,” said Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), chairman of the Republican Conference.

Some conservatives, both inside and outside Congress, have grown weary of the willingness by Senate Republicans to continue televised hearings on the allegations of U.S. abuse at Abu Ghraib. They have called the behavior of Hussein and his military far worse than anything uncovered in the documents now at the center of a widening Army criminal probe.

But Armed Services Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) said Tuesday that he expects at least two more rounds of hearings that touch on the prison issue, including one series next week in which the top deputies of the Defense and State departments talk about the planned June 30 transfer of power in Baghdad.

Sessions, a member of the Armed Services Committee, emphasized that bringing in the Iraqi amputees was not an attempt to undermine Warner’s work on the prison issue. Sessions said he was fully supportive of Warner’s work.

But calling the horrors the seven Iraqis faced at Abu Ghraib the “far edge of brutality,” Sessions said the ouster of Hussein and the eventual demolition of that prison would be far better for the Iraqi people. “You won’t be having hands chopped off in the future,” he said.

The seven Iraqi men had their right hand amputated in the early- to mid-1990s for dealing in U.S. currency. Some amputations were videotaped for Hussein, who in some cases had the severed hands sent to him to ensure the sentences were actually meted out.

A U.S. television producer, Don North, was given a videotape last June of the amputation of nine right hands and was able to track down seven of the men. One had died and the other had fled Iraq for Europe. North got in touch with some wealthy benefactors in Texas, and last month in Houston doctors attached $50,000 prosthetics on each of the men.

Tattoos of crosses in their foreheads — the sign of a criminal during Hussein’s regime — were also removed by a plastic surgeon.

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