Video: Saddam receives visitors

updated 2/22/2004 10:37:57 AM ET 2004-02-22T15:37:57

International Red Cross workers visited Saddam Hussein in U.S. custody in Iraq for the first time Saturday, checking his health and allowing him to write a censored note to his family.

Two delegates, one of them a doctor, saw the ousted Iraqi leader at an undisclosed location, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

A spokeswoman added that Saddam was only one of nearly 10,200 prisoners that Red Cross representatives have visited in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion last March.

“We were able to tour the premises, and we were able to speak to Mr. Saddam Hussein in private without any witnesses present,” said Antonella Notarishe, press officer for the Geneva-based organization.

“We also took a Red Cross message from him which he is addressing to his family and which we will deliver as soon as it has been censored.”

Another spokeswoman, Nada Doumani, said delegates checked to see whether Saddam “is getting enough food and water and also to check his health condition.”

More visits likely
They said Red Cross representatives would visit Saddam again but did not specify when or how frequently. “We will repeat our visits as long as the person is in detention,” Doumani said.

Neither spokeswoman gave details on Saddam’s appearance or condition during the meeting, which dispelled earlier speculation that the ex-Iraqi leader had been taken out of the country.

The ICRC is mandated to visit detainees under the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare but will not speak publicly on what conditions it finds. The delegates will, however, share their findings with the U.S.-led coalition forces holding Saddam.

The Red Cross has been seeking access to Saddam since his capture Dec. 13. The neutral, Swiss-based agency already has visited most of the 43 other high-ranking Iraqis captured by coalition forces, as well as many other prisoners of war and civilian detainees in Iraq.

Between March and December 2003, Red Cross delegates have seen almost 10,200 prisoners in Iraq and relayed notes between 15,000 prisoners and their families, Notarishe said.

Some of those people have since been released, and coalition forces have announced that they are holding some 10,000 prisoners in Iraq, of which fewer than 100 are classified as prisoners of war, she said.

Notarishe said the agency has always had access to the detainees. “The main problem ... is that we don’t have a permanent and extensive presence in Iraq as we used to,” she said. “We do our best to organize the visits as we can.”

POW status
The U.S. Defense Department determined last month that Saddam is entitled to POW designation because of his status as former commander in chief of Iraq’s military.

POW status under the Geneva Conventions grants Saddam certain rights, including ICRC visits and freedom from coercion during interrogations.

The Geneva treaties prevent POWs from being tried simply for taking up arms against an enemy, but allow them to be tried for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

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