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Pentagon: Saddam not abused

Lawyer alleges mistreatment based on 'capture card' notation

Saddam Hussein after his capture
Saddam Hussein is being treated with 'dignity and respect.'

Lawyers want to question top officials on prison abuse.
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Red Cross
Saddam Hussein

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A lawyer for Saddam Hussein has accused the former Iraqi dictator's American captors of abusing him, citing a "capture card" that described his condition as "slightly wounded."

A senior Pentagon official in Washington denied the allegation Wednesday, saying Saddam was being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and that the International Committee of the Red Cross has access to him.

To support his accusation, Jordanian attorney Mohammad Rashdan -- one of several lawyers representing Saddam -- cited a Red Cross "capture card" dated January 21 that listed Saddam as being in "good health" but "slightly wounded."

"Why would he be slightly wounded a month after his arrest?" Rashdan asked. "He's being abused, just like the prisoners of Abu Ghraib were abused."

The attorney has not seen or talked with his client and has no other proof to support his allegation.

The capture card -- a document printed by the International Committee of the Red Cross but not filled out by the agency's representatives -- notified Saddam's family that he was in custody.

The Red Cross has visited Saddam three times since his capture, said Antonella Notari, chief spokesperson for the relief agency based in Geneva, Switzerland.

She said the Red Cross did not know what the notation "slightly wounded" indicated. Saddam signed the card, she said, but it was not clear whether he filled it out himself.

Red Cross reports on a prisoner's condition are shared only with the detaining power, Notari said.

A senior Pentagon official told CNN that the Red Cross has had access to Saddam and that "clearly, Saddam Hussein is being treated within the guidelines of the Geneva Convention."

The official would not discuss the "slightly wounded" notation.

Lawyer on media circuit

Rashdan is in the United States this week to do interviews with several media outlets.

The attorney said he has made several requests to visit his client but has received no response.

He complained that he doesn't think the United States will be able to provide him and his client with a safe meeting place when they are finally able to meet.

"They cannot even protect their own troops from insurgents. It's a disgrace," the attorney said. "How can they provide me with a chance to sit down and talk to him without dangers of all kinds looming around us?"

Rashdan said he has sent several letters to various U.S. officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, requesting for his client "the basic rights anyone on the face of this Earth has: the right to a representation and fair trial."

But a senior Justice Department official told CNN that he was unaware of any such requests -- and in any event the Pentagon, not the Justice Department, has control over Saddam.

"It's not us. He should ask the Defense Department," the official said.

'Twinkling in the great Lord's blessing'

Saddam was captured by U.S. forces December 13 in a "spider hole" near his hometown of Tikrit.

Pentagon sources have said Saddam is being held in Iraq but that his exact location has not been disclosed for security reasons.

Rashdan showed CNN a letter signed by Saddam's wife, Sajida, and his three daughters giving power of attorney to him and several other lawyers.

Notari said Rashdan has complained to the Red Cross that he is not being allowed to visit Saddam, but she said the agency has no authority over whether lawyers are allowed to visit the former leader.

Rashdan also showed CNN part of the capture card titled the "Family Message" section. In it, Saddam wrote a letter to his daughter, Raghad, although most of the text is blacked out. It was not clear whether the redaction was done before the letter was sent, or whether it was blacked out afterward to protect the family's privacy.

"To my small family and my big family ... in peace," part of the letter reads.

"As far as my soul and my morale, they are twinkling in the great Lord's blessing. My regards to everybody, [signed] Saddam Hussein," the letter closes.

Attorney Mohammad Rashdan

Notari said Saddam has sent two other messages to his family but they have not yet been cleared by U.S. military censors.

U.S. officials have said Saddam has been less than cooperative during questioning by interrogators and has not divulged much useful information.

Saddam has not yet been charged with any crime. When asked if the former president would testify on his own behalf at a trial, Rashdan said that question was "jumping the gun."

The attorney said that in his view the American invasion of Iraq was illegal, and therefore everything that came after it is "null and void."

Salim Chalabi, head of the Iraqi war crimes tribunal, said Tuesday that the Iraqi government could get legal custody Saddam while leaving him under U.S. guard.

Chalabi said he did not believe that Iraq at present has the ability to hold Saddam securely, citing the chance that insurgents might try to spring him from jail.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released at the end of April showed that 83 percent of Iraqis surveyed agreed Saddam should be put on trial, and 84 percent believed him probably guilty of murder and torture.

A majority, 56 percent, believed Saddam would get a fair trial, and 61 percent would support the death penalty for him

Rashdan said his client is the sole legitimate president of Iraq and that he believes he should be treated according to the Geneva Conventions -- and with the respect due his position.

Saddam appears to agree with his lawyer. On the Red Cross document, Saddam listed his occupation as "Republic's President."

CNN's Octavia Nasr, Kathleen Koch and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report

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