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Pollack: Will Hussein's trial heal scars from regime's 'great terror'?

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Kenneth Pollack

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(CNN) -- Saddam Hussein made his first appearance before the Iraqi Special Tribunal on Wednesday and was charged with ordering the killings and torture of more than 140 Iraqis in Dujail in 1982 following an attempt to assassinate Hussein when he was visiting the town.

Hussein pleaded not guilty.

CNN anchor Miles O'Brien Wednesday spoke with Ken Pollack, a former CIA analyst and currently the director of research at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution about the Dujail incident.

O'BRIEN: This case up until recently was not very well-known. I'm curious. When you were writing your book, "The Threatening Storm," how much did we know about this particular incident?

POLLACK: Not a whole heck of a lot. There were a number of assassination attempts against Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. This was one that we knew was out there, but very honestly, we didn't know a whole heck of a lot about it.

I think that we're learning a lot more now. Those outside of Iraq are learning a lot more about it now, and probably the people of Iraq themselves are learning a lot more about it because even at the time, it wasn't covered extensively in the Iraqi press. Saddam had no particular incentive to publicize to the rest of his people that someone had taken a shot at him.

O'BRIEN: It makes me think that there's a lot below the radar here that we still don't know. We know about the Kurds and the gassing of the Kurds -- that rose to the level of our attention. We know he drained the marshes and totally ruined a way of life for Shias. We know about the terrible way the Shia uprising was put down after the Gulf War.

What I'm trying to say is, on an individual basis, there are probably so many tales to be told here in the wake of this regime. I wonder if really what is what the Iraqi people want here is some measure of revenge.

POLLACK: I think there's no question that there are a great many Iraqis who feel like they have been personally wronged by this regime in one way, shape or form. I think you're also absolutely right that, you know, what the West and even what Iraqis tend to know about are these big instances of mass murder, and obviously these need to be punished as well, justice needs to be served for those cases.

But so much of Saddam's regime consisted of little day-to-day incidents of murder, of torture, of other forms of abuse of the Iraqi people. We just don't know how many tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis were brought in for routine questioning and tortured, tortured to death, how many people were executed on the whim of a dictator or just because someone else inside of his regime didn't particularly like him.

That was the great terror of Saddam's regime, and that is the greatest legacy that the Iraqi people still have to bear.

O'BRIEN: We say, well, [Dujail] is a lesser event. There is no lesser event, is there?

POLLACK: For the people who went through these circumstances, for the people who had to suffer through all of these instances, and their relatives as well, each one of these was a major traumatic event in their life. There are unfortunately tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Iraqis who have been affected in this way.

Even those who weren't personally affected heard about stories from relatives, from friends. Everyone knew about these stories, and everyone was terrified. This is the problem. This is why Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi dissident, wrote a book called "Republic of Fear" about Iraq because Saddam had so terrorized this entire population with these day-to-day instances of torture, abuse and murder.

O'BRIEN: It's so egregious, the scars are so deep, is there anything in that courtroom which can redress that?

POLLACK: This is, I think, one of the biggest questions looking forward, Miles, is whether the Iraqis are going to see in this process some form of catharsis, whether they can see in getting justice from Saddam a way of putting all of this behind them to move forward.

You know, this is what we've seen in other instances like this, in South Africa, in Eastern Europe, and other cases where you've seen oppressive regimes fall. It's been critical for people to have some feeling of closure, of justice, to move beyond it. What we've seen is that in those cases where they've not gotten that sense of closure and justice, oftentimes, that's greatly contributed to the political problems moving forward.

I just don't think we know right now what we're going to get from the trial of Saddam Hussein.

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