CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN
Saddam Hussein Frees Thousands of Prisoners
Aired October 21, 2002 - 08:17 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Saddam Hussein has freed thousands of prisoners in Iraq in an apparent effort to bolster support for his regime in its confrontation with the United States. The prisoners range from political dissidents to murderers, but those accused of spying for the U.S. were not released.
Nic Robertson joins us in Baghdad with more -- good morning, Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.
Well, it really was a surprise move. When it happened, nobody here was expecting it. It was announced on radio about midday. Within minutes, we could see people rushing, families rushing out to the jails around Baghdad to look for their relatives.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Sobs of joy as a father hugs his recently freed son. For others, tears of hope, looking for loved ones in the thousands of prisoners streaming out of Baghdad's notorious Abu Grabh (ph) jail. Among them, army deserter Amir (ph) walking with the help of a friend, apparently grateful for his release. The president is generous, he says, repeating what someone in the crowd tells him.
Others, like Raisa (ph), a political prisoner for 14 years, less repentant. I didn't do anything wrong or bad, he says. I didn't harm anyone. I just carried thoughts. Why should I feel sorry?
No prisoner, however, ready to criticize their conditions in captivity. The president's love for us set us free, says Adnan (ph), who despite his pallor claims to have been well treated.
According to the prison director, possibly more than love or forgiveness leading to the amnesty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be good sons in this society and defend Iraq and the dignity and people of Iraq in case the enemies attack us.
ROBERTSON: Inside the prison, half finished meals testimony to the speed and surprise of the releases.
(on camera): There is little doubting the popularity of the amnesty among prisoners and their families. According to human rights groups inside Iraqi jails, some prisoners have been subject to beatings, while others have been executed. (voice-over): Elsewhere, other prisoners were set free in what officials are claiming as a nationwide amnesty. The only exceptions, murderers, embezzlers and those with debts who have one month of freedom to repay or seek forgiveness. On Iraqi television, emotional reunions were broadcast repeatedly, reinforcing the image of President Saddam Hussein's benevolence.
In all the chaos and confusion this day, hard to judge how such apparent generosity will be received in communities once again replete with thieves and common criminals.
ROBERTSON: Now, interestingly, Paula, away from the cameras earlier today, I talked with a few people and they told me that they weren't particularly happy that their communities were now going to have criminals and possibly murderers back out there. So mixed feelings among some people here in Baghdad -- Paula.
ZAHN: I guess the question remains how much this bolsters any loyalty among the armed forces there to Saddam Hussein or the state security forces.
ROBERTSON: Well, it was interesting that some of the people being released were deserters (AUDIO GAP)...
ZAHN: It looks like our satellite has frozen up over there.
Nic Robertson reporting from Baghdad.
We apologize for that little technical snafu. It's pretty complicated what we're trying to do from Baghdad, but Nic will be dropping by in our next hour. has frozen up over there.
Nic Robertson reporting from Baghdad.
We apologize for that little technical snafu. It's pretty complicated what we're trying to do from Baghdad, but Nic will be dropping by in our next hour.
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