Several of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s jailed deputies have been refusing food, but Saddam himself is not on hunger strike on the eve of the first anniversary of his capture, an officer in charge of detainees said Sunday.
“It appears that some of the other 11 high-value detainees have been rejecting food, although they continue to snack and to take on liquids,” Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, deputy director of detainee operations in Baghdad, told Reuters.
“We’re trying to ascertain who is turning their food back and why,” he said.
Johnson said that those who had rejected food began doing so Saturday that but that some had also eaten on Sunday morning.
Lawyers for some of the detainees said Saddam, 67, was taking part in the hunger strike, but Johnson and other U.S. officials denied that, saying Saddam, who is being held at a separate location, had eaten Sunday and might not even be aware of the action by his former aides.
“Saddam is not on a hunger strike. He ate all of his scheduled meals today,” a U.S. military spokesman said in Baghdad.
Saddam, who was taken ill earlier this year and treated for a prostate infection, was captured by U.S. troops on Dec. 13, 2003, as he hid in a hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit, in northern Iraq.
He has been visited by the International Committee for the Red Cross several times at his secret detention facility, believed to be close to the Baghdad airport, but he has not seen a lawyer. His Jordan-based lawyers say they have been denied permission to visit him.
Concerns about custody
Aref Badia, a lawyer who represents former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, told Reuters that he had heard from a lawyer for former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan that most of those on the U.S. military’s 55 most wanted list and in captivity were on hunger strike “to protest their illegal detention.”
The protest was organized to protest a lack of access to defense attorneys and to dramatize the detainees’ concern about their status once a new Iraqi government is in power after elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
“They [the detainees] heard that they are going to be handed over after the elections to an Iraqi government they will not recognize,” Badia said.
Johnson said Aziz was among those who had been turning back food. All 12 so-called high-value detainees appeared in court in July this year to be informed of general charges against them, but they have yet to be tried.
While they are in U.S. physical custody, legally they are in Iraqi hands. The U.S. military has not said what will happen to their physical custody once a new Iraqi government is elected next month.