Monday, July 26, 2004

Prison Visit in Iraq: Yoo-Hoo, Anybody Home?

The Guardian has an article on Mr. Bakhtiar Amin, just returned from a prison visit to see Saddam Hussein and the other Cards from the Deck.

The intriguing glimpse of the former dictator's daily routine as he awaits trial on charges of war crimes and genocide was given to the Guardian yesterday by Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin, who visited Saddam in detention on Saturday.

Mr Amin, a longtime Iraqi human rights campaigner who had family members killed by the former regime, said he could not bring himself to speak to Saddam but observed that he was "in good health and being kept in good conditions".

However, Mr. Amin said the former president "appeared demoralised and dejected".

Saddam is being held in a white-walled air-conditioned cell, three metres wide and four metres long, Mr Amin said. He is kept apart from the other prisoners, who can mix freely with each other during the daily three-hour exercise periods.

Since appearing in court, Saddam had taken to reading the Qur'an and writing poetry, Mr Amin said. "One of the poems is about George Bush, but I had no time to read it."

Later Mr. Amin stopped in to see some of the others.

US and Iraqi officials have said that the former president has not provided extensive information during interrogation. Some of Saddam's aides have been more cooperative.

They include Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, who reportedly gave the orders to use chemical weapons against Kurds in the late 1980s; Hussein's half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti; as well as Hussein's influential personal secretary, Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti.

Mr Amin said that during his visit he was approached by Barzan al-Tikriti, who was standing next to Ali Hassan al-Majid. "Mr Minister, what am I doing here?" Mr al-Tikriti said. "I am not like the others, I am not like Ali Hassan al-Majid. Please tell that to Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani and to Ayad Allawi."

Mr al-Tikriti was once head of Saddam's intelligence service and is suspected of involvement in the murder of several thousand members of the Barzani clan in the 1980s. "I tried to control my emotions, but to be honest I wanted to vomit," Mr Amin said.

"There before me were the men responsible for the industrial pain of Iraq - mass murderers who were responsible for turning Iraq into a land of mass graves."

But he insisted: "There will be a just trial and a fair trial, unlike the trials that he inflicted on his enemies, on the Iraqi people."


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