GENEVA (AP) – The international Red Cross said Monday it considers Saddam Hussein a prisoner of war and wants U.S. authorities to allow it to visit the ousted Iraqi leader to check the conditions in which he is being held.

The United States has not formally declared Saddam a prisoner of war, though Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saddam would be given POW rights under the Geneva Conventions.

Rumsfeld, however, added that Saddam’s classification may change and he may lose POW status if it appears he had a role in the postwar insurgency in Iraq that has killed more than 200 Americans.

A Red Cross spokesman, Florian Westphal, would not comment directly on Rumsfeld’s comments. But he said Saddam “was the commander in chief of the Iraqi army, which seems to indicate that he should at least be presumed a POW.”

“We expect any state bound by the Geneva Conventions to live up to its commitments,” he said.

old The Associated Press.

The International Convention of the Red Cross, which as the guardian of the Geneva Conventions monitors the treatment of prisoners of war, has not set a date with the U.S. military to see Saddam, Westphal said.

“There’s no fixed time frame within the Geneva Conventions. It doesn’t say that these visits have to take place within 48 hours. But we expect Saddam Hussein – as any other presumed, real or accepted POW – will at some stage be visited by the ICRC,” he said.

The U.S.-led authorities running Iraq have granted the ICRC access to other captured members of Saddam’s former regime, including those on the U.S. “most-wanted list.”

The neutral Swiss-based agency, which prides itself on its discretion, has not revealed the details of their detention. It has also never publicly named any of the senior figures it has visited.

It has also been allowed to pay visits to the 660 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. Navy base in Cuba. Washington calls those prisoners “enemy combatants” not POWs. That classification has raised criticism from the ICRC because the detainees are held without charge or trial.

Saddam has been undergoing interrogation in an unknown location in Iraq, according to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling of the 1st Armored Division. U.S. officials are pressing for intelligence on the insurgency that has taken the lives of nearly 200 American soldiers. Hertling said Monday the questioning of Saddam and documents found on him have led to the arrest of several prominent regime figures.

Westphal said while the Geneva Conventions allow captors to interrogate POWs, the prisoners do not have to answer questions. They are only obliged to give the information familiar from movies – name, rank and serial number.

Westphal said nothing in the Geneva Conventions stops POWs from being tried for war crimes or regular offenses, although they cannot be charged simply for taking up arms against the enemy.

Westphal would not comment on whether the U.S. authorities had violated the Geneva Conventions in transmitting video images of an unshaven Saddam being examined by a doctor shortly after his capture.

Article 13 of the 1949 Conventions, which set basic standards in armed conflict, says that prisoners should be treated humanely and should “at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

When images of Americans captured by Iraqi forces – as well as Iraqis held by coalition forces – were broadcast around the world last March, the ICRC appealed to both sides to respect the rules.

Westphal noted that visits to POWs and other detainees have been hampered by security risks in Iraq. The agency closed its headquarters and drastically reduced its staff following the Oct. 27 bomb attack on its Baghdad headquarters.

AP-ES-12-15-03 2228EST



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