Eight of Saddam Hussein’s 11 top lieutenants went on hunger strikes over the weekend to demand visits in jail from the International Committee of the Red Cross, but they were eating again by Monday, a U.S. military spokesman said. The former dictator had never joined the protest, the spokesman said.
In France, however, a lawyer representing Saddam asked for the International Red Cross to make sure that his client hadn’t joined the strike.
Emmanuel Ludot, a lawyer in the eastern French city of Reims, said it was not immediately clear whether Saddam, who is in U.S. and Iraqi custody, was eating or not.
“We have information coming from Iraq that gives the impression that he has in fact decided with 11 of his comrades to stop eating, but we have American denials,” Ludot said by telephone.
The Red Cross last saw Saddam in November and has no knowledge of a hunger strike, spokesman Florian Westphal said. He said Ludot would meet with ICRC officials Wednesday.
Word of the hunger strike first emerged Sunday, when a lawyer said some detainees were protesting their detention.
“They don’t acknowledge the legality of their trials or their detention,” said the lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, an Iraqi appointed by the family of former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said eight of the 11 had refused some meals since Saturday, but had continued to drink liquids and snack on U.S. military rations. Johnson said Saddam was not among them and remained in good health.
“The indication we were given was that they were wanting the ICRC to visit them,” Johnson said. “The ICRC visits on a regular basis.”
It was impossible to say if the apparent protest was timed to the one-year anniversary of Saddam’s capture, which was Monday. The detainees have been held for months in an undisclosed location, believed to be near the Baghdad International Airport, west of the capital.
Asked how the detainees could have coordinated the hunger strike, Johnson said that some of the detainees are allowed to interact with each other day to day. Saddam is allowed out of his 12-foot-by-15-foot cell twice a day, but is not believed to have contact with any of them.
Johnson said some of the eight initially refused breakfast Monday but then asked for the meal about 11 a.m.
Saddam and his 11 top lieutenants appeared before the Iraqi Special Tribunal in July to face preliminary charges from the former regime. There has been little progress on their cases since then and no one knows when they will stand trial.
Promise of fair trials
One of the defendants received a visit Sunday from a lawyer, Johnson said, but Saddam’s attorneys say the former dictator has not seen counsel or his family. In a statement released Sunday, Saddam’s lawyers in Jordan protested his isolation.
“Denying him this right is a serious breach of international protocols,” Saddam’s lawyers, who were appointed by Saddam’s wife, Sajida, said in a statement.
The Jordan-based legal team called for Saddam’s immediate release, calling his detention “illegal right from the very beginning.”
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who was in Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II, said he had no information Saddam was on a hunger strike. He assured the pope that Saddam and other members of the toppled Iraqi regime would be treated fairly and brought to trial as soon as possible after elections in January.
“My government’s position is that we reassured the Vatican that all of these people will be given a fair trial and justice will be served. The same justice they denied us we are going to give it to them,” he said.
In Iraq, Younadem Kana, a member of the Iraqi interim National Council, said the body wants a speedy trial for Saddam and his lieutenants because the detainees are giving hope to insurgents in Iraq.
“Punishing them would be a deterrent,” he said.