Top Iraqi Official Objects To Treatment as POW
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2004; Page A24
Gen. Amir Saadi, the onetime liaison between Saddam Hussein's government and U.N. weapons inspectors, has been kept in solitary confinement since he surrendered to U.S. troops on April 12, 2003, according to his wife and friends.
Saadi was classified as a prisoner of war by U.S. authorities a month after his surrender. The Geneva Conventions say prisoners of war "may not be held in close confinement except where necessary to safeguard their health." They also may not be "threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind," if they refuse to answer questions, according to the conventions.
Detlev F. Vagts, a Harvard Law School professor who specializes in international law governing wartime, said in a telephone interview, "Clearly we [U.S. forces] and Iraqi forces will have the right to confine people causing trouble or suspected of insurgency," but he added: "That would not cover al-Saadi."
A Defense Department spokesman would neither confirm nor deny yesterday that Saadi is in isolation, saying it has been the department's "policy not to discuss the disposition of individual detainees . . . because of Geneva Convention prohibitions on subjecting detainees to public scrutiny." But he said Saadi "is being treated fairly and humanely."
"It is cruel to detain innocent people in solitary confinement indefinitely, but it is far worse to be cut off from family and loved ones when they are only 15 minutes drive away and phone connections not accessible," Saadi, 66, wrote in a message delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross to his wife, Helma, on Feb. 16. She made excerpts from that message and others available to The Washington Post.
"My daily high is the exercise in fresh air, one hour in the morning, another in the afternoon," he wrote in another message that month. "These two hours are frequently curtailed" and "the twice weekly showers are sometimes missed."
Saadi was the first of the 55 most wanted senior officials in the Hussein government, the "deck of cards," to surrender, and he is among about 100 "high-value targets" who have been held in a VIP prison near the Baghdad airport. That prison is controlled by Maj. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, military head of the Iraq Survey Group, whose task has been to study Hussein's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs and to determine whether there were connections between his government and al Qaeda terrorists.
Under current procedures, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz must sign off on the release of Saadi or any other "deck of cards" official, a senior Pentagon official said. But under Article 118 of the Geneva Conventions, Vagts said, POWs "shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities."
With the transfer of limited authority in Iraq on June 30, leaders of the U.S.-led occupation and the interim Iraqi government are negotiating a transfer of custody of Hussein and former senior officials in his government. Yesterday, U.S. occupation administrator L. Paul Bremer publicly discussed the possibility of transferring legal custody of Hussein to the Iraqis while retaining physical custody until the government has an appropriate prison.
Daniel Senor, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, told reporters in Baghdad he did not want to speculate on the release of former senior Hussein officials. "The focus of the discussions right now has been on Saddam Hussein," Senor said, "but the criteria, the same criteria applies, by and large, for that -- for the others in the deck of cards."
Under international and military law, POWs may be detained after the end of hostilities and occupation only if there are charges against them, according to the Red Cross. Senor said the U.S. view is that hostilities have not ended.
Saadi, who studied chemistry in England, rose in the Iraqi army to participate in the weapons programs that created shells, rockets and bombs that delivered VX and mustard gas to Kurds in northern Iraq and to Iranians in the 1980s. In 2000, he became adviser to Hussein for scientific affairs, setting him up to be liaison to U.N. inspectors.
Saadi repeatedly told U.N. inspectors that Iraq's weapons had been destroyed in 1991, a message he last transmitted to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix a day before fighting started on March 20, 2003, according to Blix. He is said to have delivered the same message to U.S. interrogators.
Since he surrendered, Saadi has been questioned several times by the Iraq Survey Group. David Kay, who was CIA Director George J. Tenet's first chief inspector, said Monday that he had questioned Saadi and was not satisfied with the answers. But, he added, "I question whether there is more information to get from him."
Charles A. Duelfer, who has taken over as head of the weapons search, also believes Saadi has not fully answered questions, senior intelligence and Pentagon officials say. But another senior intelligence official said Monday, "The notion that Charles Duelfer is preventing this person's release is totally wrong."
David Albright, president of the D.C.-based Institute for Science and International Security, has been in touch with Iraqi scientists and said he believes that Saadi's detention is tied to the continuing, and so far fruitless, U.S. search for weapons.
"For them to release Saadi would be acknowledgment that Iraq did not have weapons after 1991," Albright said in an interview.
In a March 22 letter to E. Scott Castle, general counsel of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Helma Saadi sought her husband's release "before occupation will officially end" because he is a POW.
"We have been told that there is no objection for his release from the Iraqi side," she wrote in the letter, which she made available to The Post. She also noted that five members of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council would guarantee that he would be available for further questioning by U.S. officials. She included letters from two saying that Saadi was never a member of Hussein's Baath Party.
She noted that she has had no income since her husband surrendered and in August 2003 was severely injured in the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. "I had gone there for advice what to do about my husband's detention," she wrote.
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