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Activist discusses being human shield in Iraq

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

Cahill says he does not think the Iraqi people would be better off without Saddam Hussein and his regime.

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(CNN) -- One American peace activist put his own life on the line to try to stop the coalition bombing.

Tom Cahill was in Iraq for some five weeks as a voluntary human shield.

He joined CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer from Amman, Jordan, Thursday to talk about his experience.

BLITZER: What makes someone leave California and go to a water treatment plant in Iraq, sit there for weeks, in order to serve as a so-called human shield?

CAHILL: I wanted to make the strongest possible statement in opposition to President Bush's punishing the people of Iraq for the sins of their leader.

BLITZER: Do you feel you accomplished your mission by sitting there at that water treatment plant -- which I understand was never bombed?

CAHILL: I believe so, since we heard that a similar water treatment plant, as well as a food storage plant, and a power plant in Basra were destroyed. And to my knowledge, none of the sites in the Baghdad area have been bombed, none of our shields have been injured.

BLITZER: What makes you think the U.S. military would bomb those kinds of facilities? As you know, the Pentagon -- the Central Command -- are suggesting the Iraqi military themselves may try to destroy these kinds of facilities in order to blame the Americans.

CAHILL: Frankly, I don't believe either side. And from what I heard in Baghdad, the water treatment plant was bombed by the Americans in 1991. I don't know what to believe though from either side.

BLITZER: You heard that from Iraqis, I assume. But let's get to the specific issue of becoming a human shield. Did you emerge from Iraq with the same kind of feeling as you went into Iraq? In other words, I assume you had a strong sympathy for the Iraqi people. Did you emerge with those exact kind of feelings?

CAHILL: Yes, and even more anger at the United States government. I've been an activist all my adult life. I'm 66. I've been an activist more than 40 years. And the rage in me has been growing all these years. And the anger is another one of the reasons I went to Iraq.

BLITZER: But you saw firsthand what life was like under a regime like Saddam Hussein, a regime that's been documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, international human rights organizations, as a cruel regime, one that endorses torture and other human rights abuses. Did you emerge at all sympathetic to Saddam Hussein?

CAHILL: No. No. I know little about Saddam Hussein. Only what I hear from Amnesty International. But the people of Iraq, the people that I saw, seemed OK. I mean, I didn't see much evidence of a dictatorship there, except a lot of soldiers and an awful lot of pictures of Saddam Hussein. I think he spends most of his waking hours posing for sculptors and artists and photographers.

As far as human rights are concerned, President Bush has a problem in the United States. I'm president of Stop Prisoner Rape. Look this up on the Internet. Tens of thousands of young Americans are sexually tortured in the American [prison system] every day.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Cahill. Would you agree that the Iraqi people would be better off without Saddam Hussein and his regime in power?

CAHILL: No I don't agree.

BLITZER: All right. On that note, we'll leave it right there, Tom Cahill, a former human shield, a voluntary human shield -- spent some five weeks in Iraq at a water treatment plant, now, in Amman, Jordan.

Mr. Cahill, thanks for your candid statements.

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