U.S. Transfers Custody Of Former Baathists To Iraqis

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The U.S. military has handed over dozens of former members of Saddam Hussein's former regime to the Iraqi government. The group includes Tariq Aziz, who at one time was the international face of the regime, especially during the run up to the American invasion in 2003. The move comes as the U.S. prepares to depart Camp Cropper, the last American-run detention facility in Iraq.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The U.S. military has handed over dozens of former members of Saddam Hussein's regime to the Iraqi government. The group includes Tariq Aziz, who at one time the international face of the regime. The move comes as the U.S. prepares to depart Camp Cropper, the last American-run detention facility in Iraq.

NPR's Kelly McEvers has the story.

KELLY McEVERS: It was a few weeks after the American invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military issued the now-famous deck of cards, each with a picture of someone loyal to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Eventually, many of these men were killed, captured or turned themselves in.

(Soundbite of archived audio)

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Department of Defense): The number of officials of the former regime now in the hands of coalition forces continues to grow. And yesterday, of course, the former deputy prime minister and confidant of Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, was taken into custody.

McEVERS: That's Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. Defense secretary at the time. He said he expected Saddam's men to provide intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. That information didn't materialize because there were no weapons of mass destruction.

(Soundbite of archived audio)

Sec. RUMSFELD: What we do know is that there are people who, in large measure, have information that we need. We need it to find records so that we can go through this process of de-Baathification.

McEVERS: So U.S. military prisons filled up with former Baathists, including Saddam Hussein himself. Saddam and the close aid known as Chemical Ali were later sentenced to death and executed.

Now the U.S. military is handing over Camp Cropper, the last prison under its control, a $50 million facility just outside of Baghdad that's been housing this former regime members.

Colonel Jerry Cannon heads detainee operations here in Iraq. He says some 1,600 prisoners will be transferred to Iraqi custody tomorrow. Fifty-five men who worked with Saddam, including Tariq Aziz, have already been turned over. Cannon says each one will be processed by the Iraqi criminal justice system.

Colonel JERRY CANNON (Detainee Operations, United States Forces-Iraq): They'll adjudicate the case, they'll process it. And so we'll make a decision: Are you going to stay in jail or are you going to get credit for time served or are you going to be released?

McEVERS: The deal does come with a caveat. The U.S. military intends to keep some key prisoners, about 200 violent extremists and eight former Saddam loyalists. One who's being held by the Americans is Sultan Hashim, Saddam's former defense minister who, along with Chemical Ali, was charged with directing the brutal Anfal campaign in the late 1980s. That campaign killed thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq.

He was supposed to be executed in 2007, but the U.S. refused to hand him over. Hashim reportedly helped American forces during and after the invasion. At the time, he was promised protection by General David Petraeus who then commanded forces in northern Iraq.

Men like Tariq Aziz have no such protection now. Saddam's former number two was sentenced to 15 years in prison last year for ordering the execution of Iraqi businessmen who profited during the years Iraq was under U.N. sanctions. The 74-year-old has been in poor health for years and recently suffered a stroke. His lawyer, Badee Aref, says now that the Americans have let Aziz go, there's no guarantee the Iraqis won't press new charges against him.

Mr. BADEE AREF (Lawyer): (Foreign language spoken)

McEVERS: As long as he's in the hands of the Iraqis, there are so many ways they can kill him, Aref says. Either they'll kill him by not giving him his medicine in prison or they'll kill him by finding a new charge against him and sentencing him to death.

Camp Cropper, America's last remaining detention facility, will be handed over to the Iraqi government tomorrow.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

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