Iraq: what does POW status mean for Saddam Hussein?


Important update 
For further information on the current legal situation of Saddam Hussein, please read Iraq post 28 June 2004: protecting persons deprived of freedom remains a priority. Document  
The decision by the United States authorities to consider the former Iraqi president as a prisoner of war (POW) means that he is entitled to all the legal protections provided for under the 3rd Geneva Convention of 1949. This includes the right to visits by the ICRC.

On 21 February 2004 the ICRC carried out an initial visit to the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, who is being held as a prisoner of war by United States-led coalition forces. The visit was conducted by an Arabic-speaking delegate and an ICRC doctor in accordance with the ICRC's standard procedures.

The ICRC believes that POW status for Mr. Hussein is legally correct as he was commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces.

This status does not grant Mr. Hussein immunity from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed before capture, nor does it prevent him from being interrogated. When questioned, however, POWs are not legally obliged to give more than their surname, first names, rank, date of birth and service number (or similar).

If prosecuted by the detaining power, POWs must be tried by the same courts, and according to the same procedure, as for members of the armed forces of the detaining power. Thus, a POW held by US forces must be tried by courts martial operating under the US Uniform Code of Military Justice. In all circumstances the court must offer essential guarantees of independence and impartiality.

POWs may be transferre d out of the country where they were captured. No specific provision is made under the 3rd Geneva Convention for family visits, but when the POWs are held in their own country, it seems logical to grant them the same right to family visits as granted to civilians protected by the 4th Geneva Convention.

The answers to FAQs on this site are intended as brief, informative summaries of what are often complex matters, and the terminology used has no legal significance.