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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 December, 2003, 17:12 GMT
Where are Iraq's top 55?
By Nick Childs and Rachel Clarke
BBC, Washington

Iraq's US-appointed leadership has announced that it wants war crimes trials for the top officials of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime.

High on the list of possible defendants will be those officials identified by the US as its 55 "most wanted".

Tariq Aziz
Tariq Aziz was reportedly seen at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad airport
The name of Ali Hasan Majid, Saddam Hussein's cousin and former military commander, has already been mentioned as someone who may face prosecution for his alleged involvement in the genocidal gassing attack of the Kurds in 1988.

The US announced he was taken into custody on 21 August but little else is known of what has happened since to him or the others targeted to be "killed or captured".

When one of the 55 surrenders or is caught, US Central Command issues a news release to claim the success but then a shroud of secrecy descends.

There is no public acknowledgement of what is happening to the detainees, even where they are being held.

Indeed the only certain location of any of the "Most Wanted" is that of Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay who were killed in a pitched battle with US forces and later buried in their father's home village near Tikrit.

Commanders tell the BBC the regime leaders are being held in Iraq - during the war itself there was some speculation that some might be taken for interrogation at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan where the US has secure facilities.

Military sources say the Iraqis are continuing to be interrogated and one Central Command officer told the BBC there are "multiple locations" available to the coalition for detaining the most-wanted Iraqis.

Facilities include:
Camp Cropper, Baghdad airport (now closed)
Camp Bucca, near Umm Qasr
Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad
The US has established several camps to hold Iraqis - whether they are common criminals, people who have attacked coalition forces or those on the Most Wanted list.

One of the largest, Camp Cropper, was set up on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport. Inmates there were housed in huge tents.

Former detainees have said they saw Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's deputy prime minister, "Chemical Sally" Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash and other officials from the old regime across a fence in a different section of Camp Cropper.

That prison has now been closed, but there are other military facilities such as Camp Vigilant also near the airport which could be used.

Coalition forces have also re-opened the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, once notorious as the "hellhole" where opponents of Saddam Hussein were detained, tortured and even executed.

Reputed to be the largest prison in the Middle East, it was emptied as US forces pushed towards Baghdad in April. Inmates were thought to have been killed, transferred or set free.

In the southern region controlled by British forces, the US military has also established a base near the port of Umm Qasr called Camp Bucca which is also used to detain prisoners.

Interrogation bears fruit

The capture of key aides to Saddam Hussein such as his personal secretary, Abid Hamid al-Tikriti, had raised hopes that information could be gleaned about the location of the ousted president who is accused of inspiring or even co-ordinating attacks against coalition forces.

Saddam Hussein remains at large, though military officials do say they are getting other pieces of information from the Most Wanted.

News reports say Tariq Aziz and others have been answering questions and giving insights, perhaps even to the state of mind of Saddam Hussein before the war and why he seems to have fostered the impression that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when none have yet been found.

Ali Hasan Majid, known as 'Chemical Ali'
"Chemical Ali" Hasan Majid and others in the 55 Most Wanted may face war crimes trials

But some intelligence officials suggest Mr Aziz has not been that co-operative and there remain questions about how reliable he is and the quality of his knowledge, given that he was believed to be outside the regime's inner circle.

Investigators are also continuing to gather information against the 55 to allow them to be prosecuted at any future war crimes tribunal.

Despite the announcement by the Iraqi Governing Council, there remains no clear timetable yet for any such tribunal. One official said it "will take time" for the court to be set up.

Until the tribunal is established and indictments can be issued, the status of the individuals being held is likely to remain murky.

They have not been designated "prisoners of war" for several reasons. Most prisoners of war are released when conflict ends but that is mostly intended for rank and file soldiers rather than commanders.

Labelling Mr Aziz, Mr Hamid and others such as Ali Hasan Majid - dubbed "Chemical Ali" for his alleged role in the campaign to gas the Kurds - as POWs would also bring them under the auspices of the Geneva Conventions bringing them certain rights and protections.

A military official told the BBC that all the Most Wanted in custody were being treated humanely and "well provided for".

Some reports suggest the former senior officials are getting better treatment than other prisoners - particularly if they co-operate with investigators.

But their families continue to complain that they have little information about the captives and with no civilian or military trials in sight, the secrets are likely to remain.


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