US-Funded TV Network in Mid-East Includes Pro-Saddam Remarks

By Scott Wheeler | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A new television channel funded by American taxpayers, headquartered in Northern Virginia and beaming Arabic-language programming to the Middle East, includes all views in the debate over the war in Iraq - even those from individuals still loyal to Saddam Hussein.

Ziad al-Khasauna, an attorney from Amman, Jordan, and a recent guest on a program called The Free Hour on the Alhurra (The Free One) satellite television channel, defended Saddam''s regime.

"I call it the former Iraqi government - which was headed by the legitimate president of Iraq, President Saddam Hussein, who from my perspective is currently kidnapped as far as international law is concerned," al-Khasauna argued during a coarse debate on Alhurra, which operates 24 hours a day.

Alhurra began broadcasting in February and has an annual budget of $62 million. Its purpose, as expressed by the television channel''s mission statement, is to advance "freedom and democracy in the Middle East and long-term U.S. national interests." So, why allow individuals still loyal to Saddam Hussein to add their two cents to the debate?

"You cannot ignore those voices" if the network is to be credible, said Mouafac Harb, director of Network News for Alhurra, because al-Khasauna''s remarks and others like them represent "a point of view in the Middle East."

"If you bring people who disagree with you" to the discussion, Harb told , people will make up their own minds and "expand the landscape" of news in the Middle East, which he said is desperately needed.

The current function of the press in the Middle East is not to serve as a watchdog, which is a role adopted by the American media, Harb said. Instead, the Middle East press attempts to "inflame and provoke," often times to mobilize people against U.S. foreign policy.

The Free Hour program that contained al-Khasauna''s remarks, added a human rights activist as a political counter-weight.

"Saddam was president of a murderous gang - a professional criminal who arrived on the back of a tank in the middle of the night ... and took power through murder and torture," said Abdul Al-Hakeem, who was described on the program as the founder of the first Iraqi human rights organization.

That same program aired videotapes recovered from "intelligence centers" in Baghdad that showed graphic scenes of torture and dismemberment. The anchor of The Free Hour described the victims as "ordinary civilian prisoners" of the Saddam Hussein regime. While Harb claimed it was necessary to show the footage, he said his producers "couldn''t sleep for a week" after viewing it.

Al-Khasauna expressed skepticism about the authenticity of the tapes.

"I also have doubts regarding these pictures - since we live today in the world of photography, in which the electronic capability is able to bring the most powerful and most terrible pictures to the world ... particularly as they came from violent occupiers, murderers of children and women," al Khasauna said.

Producers at Alhurra encourage robust debate from all sides in order to achieve their goal of fairness and also to attract viewers, Harb said. "If you produce a good product, people will tune in," he added.

Harb told that he was surprised the American networks had not shown the videotapes of prisoners being tortured by the Saddam Hussein regime.

"I didn''t see them anywhere. They were available, but no one was showing them," Harb said.

Alhurra has devoted considerable time to covering the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Harb added, but a dedication to balance dictated that the torture tapes from the archives of the Saddam regime also be broadcast.

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