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Pentagon: Saddam is POW

Deposed Iraqi leader's status could affect eventual trial

Saddam Hussein is shown shortly after his capture December 13.
Saddam Hussein is shown shortly after his capture December 13.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon has declared former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein an enemy prisoner of war, officials have said.

The declaration could affect how Saddam is treated in captivity and if, or how, he'll be tried.

Since his capture by U.S. troops in December, Saddam has been afforded protection under the spirit of the Geneva Conventions. Because of the POW declaration, the United States will have to adhere to the letter of the treaty, which could limit its options in dealing with the deposed ruler.

According to Article 17, prisoners of war are not required to divulge anything more than their name, rank, date of birth and serial number, and may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment to force more information from them.

Also, Saddam's classification as a POW means that he can be tried only under the authority of occupying forces, which might require a U.S. military trial. That would interfere with U.S. plans to turn the former Iraqi leader over to an Iraqi war crimes tribunal.

Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said if any information comes to light that would raise questions about Saddam's status -- if, for example, it could be proved that Saddam was leading postwar insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition -- there are provisions in the Geneva Conventions to review and possibly change his status.

The announcement on Friday follows a day of confusion over Saddam's status.

The conflict began when officials in the Pentagon general counsel's office told reporters that there had been no formal declaration of Saddam as a prisoner of war and that there is no requirement to make such a declaration.

But at the same time, the officials said, the deposed leader is a prisoner of war based on the fact that he is the former head of an enemy military force who was captured on the battlefield during a declared conflict.

The Pentagon continued to avoid publicly calling Saddam a prisoner of war until early Friday evening.

Red Cross seeks access to Saddam

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross is negotiating to visit Saddam, an official with the organization told CNN on Friday. The Red Cross often visits high-profile prisoners to independently verify their conditions.

The Red Cross discussions about visiting Saddam took place in late December with the U.S. Central Command and the Coalition Provisional Authority, according to the group's U.S. chief, Girod Christophe.

The discussions continue in Baghdad, Iraq, among Red Cross representatives, and officials with the U.S. military and the provisional authority.

Christophe told CNN that his group has been assured by U.S. and coalition officials that they will be allowed to visit the deposed leader.

"We have been told there will be no problem with regard to access," he said.

Christophe also confirmed that Red Cross representatives have visited all the other high-level detainees being held in Iraq.

"We have seen the deck of cards, we have seen the big fish and the little fish," he said, referring to the playing cards put out by the Pentagon during the war that featured pictures of Iraq's most-wanted officials.

Christophe noted that it often can take several weeks for the Red Cross to visit prisoners, so the organization is not concerned about the delay.

"We don't feel uncomfortable," he said.

It is not known if Saddam will accept the visit, officials have told CNN.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said in the past that he saw no reason why the Red Cross should not be allowed to visit, but details would have to be worked out.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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