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Red Cross checks in on Saddam

Captured Iraqi leader passes message to family

Saddam Hussein was captured December 13 near Tikrit, Iraq.
Saddam Hussein was captured December 13 near Tikrit, Iraq.

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A delegation from the International Red Cross visited Saddam Hussein.
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Saddam Hussein
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross said it visited captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for the first time Saturday and plans to visit him again while he remains in detention.

Saddam was captured December 13 near Tikrit and is now in coalition custody. The Red Cross visits prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

"It wasn't an easy visit to arrange, and it took some time to make some practical arrangements to ensure security conditions," said Antonella Notari, a Red Cross representative. "We're happy it took place today. We're satisfied with that. The conditions under which we visited were fully satisfactory."

The coalition confirmed the visit, but when asked why it took more than two months, Dan Senor, a Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman, told CNN that "in the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, we are not going to comment on the timing."

However, Notari said reasons for delays vary, and many occur because of security concerns.

"There is a right for detaining authorities to delay a visit if they have security concerns, but they may only do so temporarily," she said.

The visit took place Saturday afternoon, and two Red Cross delegates were there, including a doctor. The delegates met with detaining authorities, toured the premises, met with Saddam and met again with authorities, Notari said. Any concerns about his treatment are raised with occupation authorities.

"We were able to tour the premises, and we were able to speak to Mr. Saddam Hussein in private without any witnesses present," Notari said.

A key goal of the visit was to check Saddam Hussein's health and mental condition. The Red Cross said the delegation was given all the time it needed for physical and mental examinations, but it would not comment on either. Physical and mental examinations are meant to determine whether he or other detainees are getting needed care.

"We asked him about his condition of detention," Red Cross representative Nada Doumani said. Questions included whether he is getting food, water, good treatment or has a health problem, Doumani said.

Doumani said Saddam gave the Red Cross a written message to his family but wouldn't disclose its contents. Notari said it would be delivered "as soon as it has been censored." She said the family can pass along a reply to the prisoner when the Red Cross visits again.

Both officials said the visit will be repeated. No date has been set.

"We will repeat these visits as we do for all prisoners of war and all civilians deprived of liberty in Iraq, regularly, at a rhythm that we choose, and as long as necessary," Notari said.

Saddam is believed to have been held in Baghdad with other high-value detainees near the international airport.

The Red Cross, which operates mostly from Jordan after pulling out of Iraq when its headquarters was bombed in October, has visited 10,200 prisoners of war and civilian detainees under coalition detention in Iraq.

The coalition said it welcomes the role of the Red Cross "in the advocacy of enemy prisoners of war" and "will continue to work with the ICRC in order to uphold our obligations under international law to include provisions of the ICRC visitation with enemy prisoners of war."

CNN's Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

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