Saddam's jailed top aides end food protest: US army

12-13-2004, 12h26

The US army said that eight of toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's jailed lieutenants were refusing food, but a short time later stated that the men had given up their protest.

"All high-value criminals are once again eating. Those who didn't eat breakfast this morning requested a late breakfast... which was provided to them," said Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a spokesman on detention operations in Iraq.

He said earlier that eight of the 11 detainees, who along with Saddam are awaiting trial for crimes against humanity, were refusing food Monday in their secret detention centre

One of the men's lawyers told AFP on Monday that the men had begun a food protest on Friday because they wanted family visits and access to the media.

The former regime officials awaiting trial include former deputy premier Tareq Aziz, former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, Saddam's personal secretary Abed Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti and Saddam's first cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his role in gassing the Kurds.

"My client, who I met for the first time on Saturday, told me that the (detainees) had begun a hunger strike the day before in order to have the Geneva Convention applied and to be able to read newspapers and listen to the radio," said Ramadan's lawyer.

"My client told me they (the detainees) were very concerned about Saddam Hussein because they had no contact with him," said the lawyer.

He added that the prisoners also wanted to receive family visits.

In a statement issued in Amman, Saddam's defence team said it feared the food protest could be "exploited as a pretext to get rid of the Iraqi leadership".

They urged the International Committee of the Red Cross "to assume their legal and moral responsibilities" and "pressure the American occupying authorities" and Iraqi government to allow Saddam to see his lawyers.