Oliver North used his first speech as a civilian to blast his critics, while the Rev. Jerry Falwell compared North's criminal indictment to the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

North, a former Marine lieutenant colonel who is accused of illegally diverting money from Iranian arms deals to the Nicaraguan Contras, delivered the commencement address Monday at Falwell's Liberty University."He's already been convicted in much of the national media," Falwell told a cheering crowd of about 12,000. "He's already guilty. The first question's always asked: Why are you having an indicted man to speak to the students of Liberty University? I said, `Well, we serve a savior who was indicted and convicted and crucified.' "

North told the crowd that he had asked his daughter to forgive his accusers and said he never intended to get caught in a political war between

President Reagan and Congress.

"From certain commentaries in the media, it is clear that some believe once a man is accused, he's branded forever," North said.

"Well, I've been accused of helping the brave young men and women of the Nicaraguan resistance in their struggle for the very liberties we claim as birthright.

"I've been accused of trying to rescue American hostages, held captive, and trying to prevent other terrorist attacks. Those accusations are not a brand. They are a badge of honor."

The crowd chanted "Ollie, Ollie," as North, wearing a black and purple academic robe, marched to the stage placed in front of a huge American flag in Liberty's baseball park. He was given an honorary doctorate in the humanities.

Conservatives seeking to draft North for Virginia's U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Paul Trible listened for clues that North might like the idea. They thought they had one when North said, "We need a better Congress."

"That was a signal for all of us in the commonwealth of Virginia to go at it," said Jamey R. Wheeler, head of a committee seeking to draft North for the Senate.