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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 January, 2004, 15:13 GMT
Red Cross push for Saddam visit
Saddam Hussein, pictured shaved after his arrest
Saddam is now entitled to rights under the Geneva Conventions
The Red Cross is urging the authorities in Iraq to allow its officials to visit Saddam Hussein, after the US said he had been classified a prisoner of war.

Pentagon officials said the former Iraqi leader, captured by US troops in December, was entitled to all the rights under the Geneva Conventions.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) described the move as "judicially acceptable".

But the group said it wanted to visit the prisoner as soon as possible.

The BBC's Nick Childs, at the Pentagon, says the decision to classify the former Iraqi leader a PoW could ultimately affect what happens to him and how he might be put on trial.

The US said PoW status had been given to Saddam Hussein as leader of the "old regime's military forces", and meant that he was eligible to stand trial for war crimes.

Some Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) members bristled at the US decision, complaining that they had not been consulted.

Prisoners' rights

ICRC spokesman Muin Kassis, in Jordan, confirmed that a request to visit the former Iraqi leader had been submitted to the civilian and military authorities in Iraq.

But negotiating a date for the visit was part of a "confidential, bilateral process", he said.

Mr Kassis told BBC News Online that the ICRC would assess the conditions Saddam Hussein was being held under, his state of health - including whether he had been tortured.

The ICRC would also press for the prisoner to be able to communicate with his remaining family - a right enshrined under the Convention - he added.

Other prisoners' rights under the Convention include:

  • Protection against violence, intimidation, insults and public curiosity

  • Protection against pressure of any kind during interrogation

  • Food rations and drinking water sufficient to keep prisoner in good health

  • Adequate clothing and washing facilities

  • Adequate medical treatment.

'He is a criminal'

IGC member Judge Dara Nuraddin, who helped set up the legal framework for a war crimes tribunal in Iraq, said: "We are shocked and are in talks with the Coalition Provisional Authority about it because we were not consulted."

US soldiers on a tank positioned outside a mosque in Tikrit
The capture of Saddam Hussein has not ended violence in Iraq
But Mr Nuraddin said the decision would not affect plans to put the fallen strongman on trial as early as June in front of a five-judge tribunal.

"The Pentagon declaration does not matter to us. He is a criminal. He committed crimes against Iraqis and will be judged in Iraq in front of an Iraqi tribunal," he said.

Another council member, Samir Sumaiydah, expressed concern that the move might hinder the investigation into the crimes of the old regime.

'Saddam treated like cow'

There is continuing controversy over TV pictures which showed Saddam Hussein undergoing a medical examination after his capture - footage regarded by some as a failure to protect him from public curiosity.

The Vatican described the scenes as Saddam being "treated like a cow", and some sections of the Arab world were deeply offended.

The US says the pictures were shown to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that they no longer had anything to fear.

On Friday, a senior British official said Saddam - who is being held at an undisclosed location and interrogated by the CIA - was still refusing to co-operate with his captors.

But the former president's capture near his home town of Tikrit last month was yielding results "far greater than we expected", the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The US-led coalition had used documents found with the ex-leader to mount operations against Saddam loyalists, the official said.

The BBC's David Chazan
"The Pentagon has said all along that he was being treated according to the Geneva convertions"

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