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For Hussein, a Spartan Life at His Former Palace
New York Times ^ | September 19, 2004 | JOHN F. BURNS

Posted on 09/18/2004 12:48:32 PM PDT by 68skylark

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 18 - Nine months after American troops pulled him disheveled and disoriented from an underground bunker near his hometown, Tikrit, Saddam Hussein is living in an air-conditioned 10-by-13 foot cell on the grounds of one of his former palaces outside Baghdad, tending plants, proclaiming himself Iraq's lawful ruler, and reading the Koran and books about past Arab glory.

American and Iraqi officials who have visited the former Iraqi leader say he wears plastic sandals and an Arab dishdasha robe, eats American soldiers' ready-to-eat meals for breakfast, and is permitted three hours' daily exercise in a courtyard outside his cell. He has been flown by Black Hawk helicopter to an American military hospital in Baghdad, where doctors ran tests for an enlarged prostate, which they believe could be an early pointer to cancer.

He has undergone hours of interrogation by investigators preparing evidence for his trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

But he has refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, or to show remorse for the hundreds of thousands of people killed during his 24-year dictatorship, officials say. He has insisted that his position as Iraq's president gave him legal authority for all he did and that his victims were "traitors." At every encounter, the officials say, he insists that he is still the constitutionally elected president.

More than 80 other "high value detainees" at the same prison - including more than 40 who were on the Pentagon's "pack of cards" of Iraq's most-wanted fugitives - are kept away from Mr. Hussein, said Bakhtiar Amin, the Iraqi human rights minister. Mr. Hussein has been in solitary confinement since his capture on Dec. 13, officials said, because of a fear that he would try to rig evidence or intimidate old associates in the prison.

But the core of the group, 11 men who appeared with him in court on July 1, are allowed to exercise together, and to play chess, poker, backgammon and dominos. Offsetting those privileges, they have faced indignities Mr. Hussein has been spared, including, at the outset, digging their own latrines. But the strict protocol favored by authoritarian regimes still rules. "They call each other by their old titles, Mr. Minister of this, Mr. Minister of that," Mr. Amin said. "It is as if nothing has changed."

When Mr. Hussein appeared in court to be advised of his legal rights and of the charges under investigation, officials said it could be two years or more before he was brought to trial. None of the other former officials who appeared with him were likely to come to trial for as much as a year, they said, because of the tons of documents to be processed, as well as the need to interview the thousands of Iraqis who have come forward as potential witnesses.

But the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has decided to fast-forward the legal processes. It has begun a shake-up of the staff at the special tribunal set up last year to hear the cases and hopes to begin the first high-profile trial, probably against Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Mr. Hussein's known as Chemical Ali, by November. Mr. Hussein's trial will follow, perhaps next year if the prosecutors are ready, Iraqi and American officials say.

In an interview at his heavily guarded residence in Baghdad on Thursday, Dr. Allawi said the government had "received the resignation" of Salem Chalabi, the American-educated lawyer who has been the court's chief administrator. He is a nephew of Ahmad Chalabi, the exile leader who was favored by the Pentagon before the March 2003 invasion, but who has recently been shunned by the American hierarchy here. Ahmad Chalabi has set himself up as a rival to Dr. Allawi among Iraq's majority Shiites, and his nephew, who has been implicated by the Allawi government in a murder case unrelated to the work of the tribunal, has been out of Iraq for most of the past two months.

Small Pleasures

In prison, Mr. Hussein has asked for some vestiges of the pleasures he enjoyed when he moved between dozens of palaces. "This was a man whose regime used a shredder to turn human bodies into ground beef," said Mr. Amin, the 46-year-old rights minister, who spent years abroad as an exile chronicling the abuses of Mr. Hussein's government and petitioning foreign governments and rights organizations to shun the Iraqi government.

"And now he sits there in his cell and asks for muffins and cookies and cigars," he said.

Mr. Hussein and his top lieutenants are being held at Camp Cropper, a heavily fortified compound that crouches behind high walls topped with rolls of razor wire, beneath sandbagged watchtowers manned by soldiers with machine guns. The camp lies within a vast American headquarters complex known as Camp Victory, that includes a network of palaces, as well as lakes that Mr. Hussein filled with fish. Planes using Baghdad International Airport pass low over the prison, 10 miles from the center of Baghdad.

For the trials, courtrooms are being readied in one of the vast, neo-imperialist buildings inside the former Republican Palace compound in central Baghdad that make up the Green Zone, the headquarters for the Allawi government and 2,500 American military and civilian officials. The five-judge panels that will preside at the juryless trials will have the power to impose death sentences on Mr. Hussein and his associates some of whom wept when they were told at the July hearing that they faced possible execution. For Mr. Hussein and his victims, a trial in the new court building, which The New York Times was asked not to identify for security reasons, will have a special irony. Mr. Hussein, who favored an architectural style emphasizing huge sandstone columns and portals, will face a reckoning in one of the buildings he erected to glorify his rule. In the dock, he will be a short walk away from the Republican Palace beside the Tigris River, once his main seat of power.

The Allawi government believes that the Iraqis, subjected to decades of terror, will begin to recover only when they see the men responsible brought to account. "Without justice, I don't see any possibility of healing the wounds in this society," Mr. Amin, the human rights minister, said. "These people turned Iraq into a 'massgrave-istan' by the scale of their crimes."

"They made an industry of murder," he said.

Establishing Legitimacy

There are political pressures, too. Dr. Allawi will be a candidate in elections set for January, a crucial step toward the goal of a constitutionally established, popularly elected government by 2006. With the mounting insurgency, he needs to bolster his waning popularity among Iraqis who increasingly blame him for the chaos. By putting top figures from the former government on trial, aides believe, he can remind Iraqis of the trauma that ended with their overthrow.

In the interview, Dr. Allawi said political calculations and a desire for revenge - he was nearly killed by assassins Mr. Hussein sent to his exile home in London, who attacked him with an ax while he slept, leaving him hospitalized for a year - played no part in his decision to accelerate the trials. Rather, he said, what he sought was a catharsis. "We need to bury the past," he said.

Dr. Allawi was a rising student leader in the governing Baath Party in the 1960's when he first met Mr. Hussein. He recalled him as a "thug who enjoyed hurting others," and as a man whose rule had been "like a horror movie." Now, he said, Mr. Hussein was paying the price. "My guess is that Saddam is dying every day," he said. "He is in prison, he is alone, he has lost everything, he has no power, nothing; and to him, that is worse than death."

Western legal experts familiar with the tribunal's work say they doubt the tribunal can meet Dr. Allawi's timetable for a November start to the trials. In many cases, the preparation of evidence is far from complete, and so far, the tribunal has found no Iraqi lawyers to defend Mr. Hussein and his associates.

In July, several defendants, including Mr. Majid, said they wanted lawyers from elsewhere in the Arab world, but none have come forward. "The high-value criminals have been informed about this, that no Iraqi lawyers are willing to take their cases, and that the foreign lawyers who said that they would didn't come forward, either," Mr. Amin said.

In his cell, Mr. Hussein has a fold-up bed, a small desk and a plastic chair, as well as a supply of bottled water and ice, a prayer mat and a choice of more than 170 books from a library supplied by the International Committee of the Red Cross. He sleeps a lot, officials said, and reads Arabic-language books with a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles, including tomes of ancient poetry and tales from nearly 1,000 years ago, when Baghdad was a famous center of learning and the capital of the Islamic world.

On visits to the Army's hospital in the Green Zone, Mr. Hussein has staked out his independence in other ways. In the hospital - named for Ibn Sina, a scientific pioneer of the early Islamic world - he has been treated by American military doctors and Iraqi physicians who were on his presidential medical team. Near wards filled with wounded American soldiers, he has undergone blood tests and scans that have confirmed that he has an enlarged prostate gland, medical officials said, as well as a hernia problem and trouble with one of his eyes.

But he has refused a surgical biopsy that might determine whether the prostate condition was cancerous, a decision officials involved said was common among American men of Mr. Hussein's age, 67, who often choose not to take the biopsy when they are told that the condition could take years to become life-threatening. "He has time," one official said. "There is no health issue that would prevent him standing trial."

Another official said Mr. Hussein had helped an American Navy surgeon take blood by gripping a tourniquet on his arm, and remarked, in English, "Perhaps I should have been a doctor, not a politician."

In the courtyard by his cell, Mr. Hussein has placed white-painted stones around the plants he tends, a fact that struck Mr. Amin, the human rights minister, as bizarre. "It's an irony of history," he said. "This is a man who committed some of the biggest acts of ecocide in history, when he drained the marshes in southern Iraq, used chemical weapons against 250 Kurdish villages, and shipped whole palm tree plantations to the charlatan leaders of the Arab world who were his shoeshine boys.

"And now he's a gardener."

Mr. Amin said Mr. Hussein had been denied newspapers, radio and television, and thus knew little about the political events in Iraq that have followed his capture. But he said the former ruler was upset when he was told that a prominent Sunni tribal leader, Sheik Ghazi al-Yawar, had been named by the United States to replace him as president.

"He was shaken and he was very upset," Mr. Amin said. "He couldn't accept that." He added: "He's a megalomaniac and a psychotic. He has never expressed any remorse for any of his victims. He is a man without a conscience. He is a beast."

Therapy Sessions Declined

An American general said Mr. Hussein had been offered sessions with American military psychologists, but had refused them, as had all his closest associates. Still, all 12 are watched by an American mental health team - especially under interrogation - for any sign they may be contemplating suicide. None has given cause for concern so far, the general said. Other officials gave a somewhat different picture, saying that some of the men had bouts of depression and complained bitterly about being denied family visits.

In the converted mosque annex at Camp Victory that was used as a courtroom in July, several of the former leaders seemed deeply shaken when told they faced a possible death penalty. Several blamed Mr. Hussein for the killings, and said they were only following orders. Since then, Iraqi officials said, several have offered to cooperate with their interrogators. One is Tariq Aziz, the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking former deputy prime minister, who was Mr. Hussein's diplomatic emissary; another is Barzan al-Tikriti, Mr. Hussein's half-brother.

Mr. Amin said he was hailed by Mr. Tikriti during a visit to Camp Cropper. "Somebody called out, 'Mr. Minister! Mr. Minister!' and said, 'Why are you treating me like Ali Hassan al-Majid? I am not one of them, everybody knows about the deep rivalry within my family' " - a reference, Mr. Amin said, to an incident in the early 1990's when Uday Hussein, the former ruler's oldest son, who was married to Mr. Tikriti's daughter, shot and seriously wounded his father-in-law in the legs during an argument over his treatment of his wife.

"He was depressed, it was a cry for help," Mr. Amin said. "But I told him, 'If you want to see the list of your crimes, I will show it to you. It is a long one.' "

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: iraq; johnfburns; palace; prisonersaddam
I like almost any article written by John Burns -- he's one of the good guys.
1 posted on 09/18/2004 12:48:32 PM PDT by 68skylark
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To: 68skylark
Offsetting those privileges, they have faced indignities Mr. Hussein has been spared, including, at the outset, digging their own latrines.

Why do I sense there will be "abuse" photos of this. . .

2 posted on 09/18/2004 12:50:34 PM PDT by wagglebee (Benedict Arnold was for American independence before he was against it.)
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To: 68skylark

"... the former Iraqi leader say he wears plastic sandals and an Arab dishdasha robe..."

why not call them flip flops?? that's how we all know
Jf'nK anyway.

3 posted on 09/18/2004 12:51:13 PM PDT by Rakkasan1 (Justice of the piece:excuses are like forged Bush guard memos;everybody's got one.)
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"BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 18 - Nine months after American troops pulled him disheveled and disoriented from an underground bunker"

.....try Spider Hole!..........Geeeezzzzz!!.......

4 posted on 09/18/2004 12:51:45 PM PDT by inconspicuous
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To: wagglebee
Why do I sense there will be "abuse" photos of this. . .

Yeah, there could be some "abuse" photos coming. I'm not sure how "abusive" this treatment really is -- American soldiers often have to dig their own latrines and the work isn't called "abuse." But with the MSM you never know what they'll say or do next.

5 posted on 09/18/2004 12:58:24 PM PDT by 68skylark
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To: 68skylark
Yes but friends of the "revered" Dan Ratherbiased's should never be subjected to such indignaties!

6 posted on 09/18/2004 1:04:45 PM PDT by wagglebee (Benedict Arnold was for American independence before he was against it.)
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To: wagglebee
"With respect: answer the questions," said Dan Rather.

Question: What important issue is he referring to? What issue is so important that he's willing to step out of his role as a journalist to give a direct order?

(a) George Bush and his guard drill schedule in 1972.

(b) Saddam Hussein and the killing of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children.

7 posted on 09/18/2004 1:13:23 PM PDT by 68skylark
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To: 68skylark

Three hours outside? How many people does he have to kill to be treated the same as an American crack user?

God, we Americans can be chumps.

8 posted on 09/18/2004 1:14:03 PM PDT by Finalapproach29er ({about the news media} "We'll tell you any sh** you want hear" : Howard Beale --> NETWORK)
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To: 68skylark
He has been flown by Black Hawk helicopter to an American military hospital in Baghdad, where doctors ran tests for an enlarged prostate,

Just where would a Doctor start such an exam on someone who clearly is all asshole ?

Stay Safe.......Y

9 posted on 09/18/2004 1:19:02 PM PDT by Squantos (Be polite. Be professional. But, have a plan to kill everyone you meet. ©)
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To: Finalapproach29er
God, we Americans can be chumps.

Yeah, I have to agree with you that his accommodations sound much too cozy to me too. The U.S. will be more scary and more respected in the Arab world if we'd treat Hussein and his henchmen the way a "supermax" prisoners get treated here.

10 posted on 09/18/2004 1:19:14 PM PDT by 68skylark
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To: 68skylark

Absolutely. Full cavity search twice a day

11 posted on 09/18/2004 1:48:47 PM PDT by eclectic
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To: Rakkasan1

I have a dishdasha, made of camel hair. It keeps me warm on cold days, and goes quite well with a cigar (one of those things you just have to experience to understand).

12 posted on 09/18/2004 2:10:42 PM PDT by Renfield (Philosophy chair at the University of Wallamalloo!!)
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To: 68skylark

Saddam was a ruthless and brutal dictator. In his defense, it appears Iraq can only be effectively governed in a Saddam-style form of tyranny.

13 posted on 09/18/2004 6:47:51 PM PDT by Cruz
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To: 68skylark

Really ..??

Then why is he revealing this information: "on the grounds of one of his former palaces outside Baghdad".

That information has always been stated as being a "classified location". Suddenly it's no longer classified ..??

WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON!! All we need is for a bunch of those idiots to try to break Saddam out of prison. Good grief, exposing this information .. what an incredibly stupid thing to do.

14 posted on 09/18/2004 8:44:16 PM PDT by CyberAnt (Sen.Miller said, "Bush is a God-fearing man with a good heart and a spine of tempered steel")
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