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Red Cross Expects Invitation to Visit Saddam Under Geneva Convention - 2003-12-15

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it expects to be invited to send representatives to meet with Saddam Hussein, as provided under the Geneva Conventions.

A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Florian Westphal, said the United States has an obligation to invite Red Cross officials to visit Mr. Hussein, just as it would for any other prisoner of war. "We will not consider the case of Saddam Hussein any differently from the case of any other prisoner of war or civilian internee. People who are protected by the Geneva Conventions have the right to be visited by the ICRC. We take this obligation on us extremely seriously and as we have always said, despite the devastating blow we suffered when this bomb went off at our office, we are determined to find ways of fulfilling our obligation," he said.

The Red Cross withdrew most of its international staff from Iraq after its headquarters in Baghdad was attacked on October 27. Only international staff members are allowed to visit prisoners of war and civilian internees.

Mr. Westphal said Red Cross visits to prisoners of war are held in private so that the prisoner can speak freely. He says if delegates find that violations have taken place, the Red Cross demands that the authorities take measures to rectify the situation and punish those who may be responsible for abusive treatment.

Mr. Westphal says it is up to the coalition to make the first move and begin discussions with the ICRC as to when, where and how the visit will take place.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has promised Saddam Hussein will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. "He is being accorded the status of a prisoner of war, and his treatment will be governed by the Geneva Convention," he said.

The Geneva Conventions specify that a prisoner of war must be treated humanely. Florian Westphal of the International Committee of the Red Cross explains physical conditions of detention, such as food, medicine and clothing must meet a minimum standard. He said the Geneva Conventions also lay down rules of procedures which are to be followed when legal action is taken against a prisoner of war.

"Let me make it clear that the status of POW does not exclude being charged and tried for war crimes or other offenses. It also regulates the possibility for prisoners of war to have contacts with their families, usually through Red Cross messages which are facilitated by the ICRC," he said. "So it really has quite a number of provisions which relate to the treatment and which try to lay down a basic standard of humane treatment for any person protected including prisoners of war. But, to make it clear again which do not preclude at all the possibility to bring charges against somebody."

Iraqi and coalition officials have indicated that Saddam Hussein will be tried for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly other offenses.