The Pentagon’s decision on January 9 to label Saddam Hussein a prisoner of war is puzzling in that it fails to answer a great many questions about his fate, most of all when and where he will be brought to justice in the next stage.
In the meantime, DEBKA-Net-Weekly can reveal that his daughter Raghed Kamal, who lives in Jordan under the protection of the government, has consulted a group of lawyers about arranging his defense and placed her considerable fortune at her father’s disposal.
Proclaiming Saddam Hussein a prisoner of war has one disadvantage for the Americans – which, however, is easily outbalanced by a huge advantage, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s diplomatic sources.
The disadvantage is that, as a POW, Saddam acquires certain rights under the Geneva Conventions: he may not, for instance, be made an object of “public curiosity” or subjected to coercive methods of interrogation.
On the first point, the US has probably squeezed all it can out of the demeaning footage taken of Saddam at the time of his capture.
On the second, the month’s delay in pronouncing on his POW status gave the Americans plenty of tough interrogating time. The Pentagon’s lawyers now say Saddam has been a POW since he was captured on December 14. How explain the delay in letting the world know? A couple of days before the announcement, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld commented that the Pentagon’s lawyers had “good reasons” for not declaring Saddam a POW.
However DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources reveal that the deposed Iraqi dictator has given virtually nothing away under CIA interrogation. Even the confrontation between him and Abed Hammud, his personal adjutant and repository of all his secrets, yielded no results and led to the ugly rumors of Hammud’s sudden death in confinement. The Americans may have decided that pressing on with an unprofitable business was outweighed by the importance of gaining a free hand in deciding what eventually happens to the former dictator.
There lies the advantage. Saddam’s POW status enables Washington to block any demand by the Iraqis in the immediate future to get their hands on him. As a POW, he is the responsibility of the occupying power. Under the Geneva Conventions, a POW may be tried for war crimes by an international tribunal or the occupying power. Even if the US is quite likely eventually to decide to hand him over to the Iraqis, the time will be of the Bush administration’s choosing.
The administration has added to the confusion by stressing that it has not taken a final decision, and still leans towards an Iraqi trial. At the time of Saddam’s capture, President George W. Bush said that only the Iraqi people should decide his punishment. But secretary of state Colin Powell said bewilderingly after the Pentagon lawyers had pronounced that he was still not sure about Saddam’s status. He added that the Iraqis should be “full partners” in what happens to him, but the administration has yet to decide when to hand him over.
It came as no surprise when Rumsfeld, a master of obfuscation, added to the vagueness. At a news briefing this week, he said Saddam would be regarded as “an enemy prisoner of war for the period up to May 1,” when President Bush declared major combat operations over in Iraq. He added, “And he has the potential for being prosecuted for activities after May 1 involving the insurgency and the killing of coalition troops.”
Rumsfeld, who may have been trotting out what international legal experts told him to say, put in: “The United States reserves the right to change his prisoner-of-war legal status.”
The only clear thing to emerge from all this doubletalk is that Washington is intent on holding on to Saddam for the time being while keeping all its options open. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, there are two reasons for this.
First, the Americans want to remain in control of the pre-trial process, to make sure they can regulate the information coming out and be in a position to hold back unwanted revelations. Second, the former ruler’s handover could be a valuable bargaining chip in dealing with the new Iraqi government that takes over after June 30.
In theory, at least, the 7,000 Iraqis detained by the Americans, and the 6,000 held by the British are all POWs. A US military spokesman, Commander Chris Isleib, told the BBC back in April, “We’re treating all prisoners as POWs until they receive further designation.”
If it was a fact, it was a fact not widely publicized.
Making a complicated story even more so, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have received exclusive information about Saddam’s daughter, Raghed Kamal, applying to the Jordanian authorities at the end of last week for permission to move to Paris. She gave two reasons.
The Jordanian government bars Arab journalists in Amman from contacting her ever since the interview she gave to the Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV station, when she attributed Saddam Hussein’s fall to the betrayal of people around him.
More importantly, she wants to move her considerable wealth from Jordan to Paris. She retained the family fortune when her late husband, Hussein Kamal, head of Saddam’s military industry and WMD program, defected to Amman in 1995. He offered secrets to the Clinton administration in return for US backing for a coup against his father-in-law. This was denied. Kamal was finally lured back to Baghdad the following year by a promise of forgiveness and murdered after his return.
His widow told the Jordanian authorities she intends to devote her resources to financing and managing her father’s defense. Our sources understand that she intends to set up a group of international lawyers, mainly European, as Saddam’s defense team.
What she did not tell the Jordanians was that she simultaneously intends to rebuild the Iraqi Baath party, setting up a party in exile.
The Jordanians were deeply embarrassed by her request. They decided to ask the Americans what to do. They have not yet had their answer.
As DEBKA-Net-Weekly went to press, our sources in Iraq reported the Iraqi Baath party had issued its own statement about Saddam’s POW status. Describing Saddam’s detention as temporary, the announcement appeared to contain a veiled threat by the Baath underground to attack the secret location where the Americans are holding him. The statement also expressed what it called the Iraqi people’s admiration of Saddam’s determination in facing down his US captors. It then listed four points chock full of threats but also indicating for the first time since May that attacks on American troops could cease if the US administration in Iraq resumed negotiations with Saddam and the Baath party. Those points are:
Saddam should not be treated as a private citizen but as president of the Iraqi republic.
Should the United States refuse to concede that point, Saddam would no longer be a POW but an abductee, and the Iraqi underground would respond accordingly.
The only way to pursue an agreement restoring order to Iraq and enabling the United States to withdraw its troops is through a direct dialogue with Saddam – and the Americans know exactly where to find him.
The Baath party is revoking all appointments to the US-backed Iraqi governing council and voiding, in advance, all results from the coming general election in Iraq.