updated 7/12/2006 6:04:50 PM ET 2006-07-12T22:04:50

Saddam Hussein and three of his co-defendants have been on a hunger strike for nearly a week to protest what the defense says is a lack of security for their attorneys, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

Lawyers for Saddam and co-defendants Barzan Ibrahim, Taha Hussein Ramadan and Awad al-Bandaron announced a boycott of the proceedings this week unless their demands were met for greater security after one of their colleagues was killed last month.

Saddam and the three others “have now refused meals since their evening meal on July 7,” Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, spokesman for U.S. military detainee operations, told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

“All are protesting the Iraqi High Tribunal procedures and security for the defense attorneys,” he said.

The four defendants were in “good health and receiving appropriate medical care,” with access to physicians at all time, he said, adding that more medical attention will be focused on those detainees who continue to refuse meals.

“Saddam has participated in various hunger strikes during his detention, but his health has never been in danger,” Curry said.

The judge called a two-week recess in Saddam’s trial on Tuesday and warned the defense attorneys that if they did not attend the next session, court-appointed lawyers would make Saddam’s closing arguments.

The defense walkout was sparked by the June 21 slaying of Khamis al-Obeidi, the third member of the team to be assassinated since the trial began in October. The defense team has blamed Shiite militiamen for al-Obeidi’s death.

Security for lawyers demanded
In a letter to the court, the defense said it wanted U.S. authorities to provide security for the lawyers and their families. It also demanded a 45-day recess to allow it to prepare its closing statements and a promise from the court that it would be allowed to take as long as it wishes in its final arguments.

Court spokesman Raid Juhi said the defense had rejected an offer of the same security precaution given to the judges and prosecution lawyers: residence inside the Green Zone, the fortified Baghdad neighborhood where the court is located.

It was not clear if the adjournment until July 24 will mean a delay in the issuing of verdicts in the 9-month-old trial. Court officials had predicted the verdicts would come in mid-August.

Saddam and seven former members of his regime are charged in the crackdown on Shiites in the town of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader.

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