WASHINGTON -- They spoke in voices trembling with anger and loathing. The listeners sat in rapt silence, occasionally shaking their heads at a particularly horrific detail.
In a high-ceilinged hearing room at the U.S. Capitol, six people who fled from Iraqi troops in Kuwait described atrocities they have seen and experienced as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces have moved to complete the dismantling of the occupied nation and the subjugation of its population.
They told members of Congress about mass executions, rapes and torture. They described the looting of food, equipment and supplies from schools, businesses, stores and hospitals. They recounted the seizure of men between the ages of 15 and 40 for the Iraqi military, the lack of medical care for Kuwait's ill and wounded, the arbitrary arrests and murders of Kuwaitis.
It was the first airing in Washington of extensive firsthand accounts from Kuwait, and it left a visible impression on the lawmakers, who are pondering whether United States should mount a military offensive against Iraq, and if so, when.
"In the eight-year history of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, we have never had the degree of ghoulish and nightmarish horror stories coming from totally credible eyewitnesses that we have had this time," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., co-chairman of the panel, which has heard testimony in the past about torture and abuses in Latin America and Africa.
The witnesses included Deborah Hadi, who recently left her Kuwaiti husband to escape to the United States, but not before experiencing the "primitive, uncivilized behavior" of Iraqi troops,
which she detailed in a soft voice that often broke as she spoke.
"We took our cousin, who was in labor, to Sabah Maternity Hospital. Upon our arrival, we saw a Kuwaiti woman at the front door -- in hysterics, because she was in labor and they would not allow her to enter," said Hadi, pausing while she fought back a sob. "When she continued to scream, they put a bayonet through her stomach, pinning her to the wall. We left the hospital immediately and delivered my cousin's baby at home."
Hadi described to the caucus "images of death, destruction, brutality and helplessness" imprinted in her mind by the actions of Hussein's military forces. Her account was echoed by the other witnesses, some of whom said that they fear for the safety of relatives they left behind.
Congress is scheduled to adjourn Oct. 19, and members have expressed eagerness to be fully apprised of possible Iraqi provocations and potential U.S. options before they leave Washington.