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Saddam 'gardens, eats muffins'

Saddam Hussein in a combative moment in court.
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Former dictator Saddam Hussein appears in an Iraqi court.

Saddam has heated exchange with judge.

Shiites say Saddam looked more like president than prisoner.

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• Transcript:  Saddam proceeding
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Will Saddam Hussein receive a fair trial?
Saddam Hussein

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein spends his time in solitary confinement writing poems, tending a garden, reading the Koran and eating American muffins and cookies, a British newspaper has reported.

The Guardian quoted Bakhtiar Amin, Iraq's new human rights minister, as saying Saddam "appeared demoralized and dejected" during a weekend visit to his cell. Amin said one of Saddam's poems was about George Bush.

Amin said he did not speak to Saddam but that he appeared to be "in good health and being kept in good conditions."

He said Saddam was being treated for high blood pressure and a chronic prostate infection, although he had refused a biopsy to test for cancer.

Amin said Saddam "was regaining weight again" after putting himself on a diet in which he "resisted all fatty foods and had lost 11 pounds."

Saddam and other detainees get a 1,300-calorie MRE (meal ready to eat) breakfast, along with two hot meals a day. Desserts might include oranges, apples, pears or plums, although Amin said Saddam likes American muffins and cookies.

Amin said Saddam exercises in his cell, and uses a daily three-hour exercise period to tend a small outdoor garden. Saddam is kept apart from other detainees, who can mix freely with each other during the exercise periods.

"He is looking after a few bushes and shrubs and has even placed a circle of white stones around a small palm tree," Amin said.

"His apparent care for his surroundings is ironic when you think he was responsible for one of the biggest ecocides when he drained the southern marshes."

Saddam's cell in a U.S. military prison is air conditioned, painted white, and measures 3 meters (yards) by 5 meters.

Amin said Saddam had taken to reading the Koran and writing poetry since his first court appearance on July 1.

"One of the poems is about George Bush, but I had no time to read it," Amin said.

It wasn't clear whether the poem was about current U.S. President George W. Bush or his father, former U.S. President George Bush, who launched the 1991 Gulf War against Saddam.

Amin, a Kurd from Kirkuk, is a longtime Iraqi human rights campaigner. The Guardian said he was the first member of Iraq's new interim government to visit Saddam.

During his visit, Amin said he saw Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, who allegedly ordered the use of chemical weapons against Kurds in the late 1980s.

Amin said he was approached by Saddam's half brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, a former intelligence chief who was once Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

"Mr. Minister, what am I doing here," Amin quoted al-Tikriti as saying. "I am not like the others, I am not like Ali Hassan al-Majid."

Al-Tikriti asked that the message be given to Kurdish leaders and Iraq's new prime minister, Ayad Allawi.

"I tried to control my emotions, but to be honest I wanted to vomit," The Guardian quoted Amin as saying.

"There before me were the men responsible for the industrial pain of Iraq -- mass murderers who were responsible for turning Iraq into a land of mass graves."

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