CIA to handle questioning of Hussein, Rumsfeld says

Secretary says treatment of captured dictator has been legal and humane


WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that the CIA would be in charge of interrogating Saddam Hussein, and he strongly defended the treatment of the former Iraqi leader since his capture Saturday as legal, proper and humane.

The decision to entrust the CIA with Hussein's interrogation was an easy one, Rumsfeld said.

"It was a three-minute decision," he said, "and the first two were for coffee."

Rumsfeld did not rule out a Pentagon role for keeping the deposed dictator in custody, or for questioning him. But he said he and George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, had agreed that the CIA should be the agency to decide who questions Hussein, and where and when.

"They have the competence in that area, they have professionals in that area, they know the means that we have in terms of counterterrorism, they know the threads that have to come up through the needlehead," he said.

The intelligence agency will serve as "the regulator" of information flowing from the questioning, Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing. The secretary strongly defended the treatment of Hussein, declaring that it has been humane and that showing pictures of the bedraggled former dictator to the world in no way violated international standards on handling prisoners.

Noting the fear that Hussein and his cronies inspired in their decades of rule, Rumsfeld said, "It's terribly important that he be seen by the public for what he is: a captive," and thus a man unable to claw his way back to power, Rumsfeld said.

After his capture on Saturday, some critics had suggested that the disturbing images of a wild-looking Hussein being examined by an Army medic - televised around the world - or the fact that his captors had allowed four Iraqi officials to question him, might constitute banned acts of "parading" or humiliating prisoners of war.

No aspect of Hussein's handling came even "up on the edge" of violating the Geneva Conventions, said Rumsfeld, adding that the prisoner was being treated "professionally" and "humanely."

Rumsfeld said that while Hussein was being afforded full protection in accord with Geneva standards, he had not been classified as a prisoner of war. That could change, he suggested, if it is learned that Hussein had helped guide the Iraqi insurgency since the end of major combat in Iraq.

So far, Rumsfeld said, he could not say whether documents found with Hussein showed that he had held such a role in guiding the insurgency. In any case, the defense secretary said, if there was any prospect whatsoever that the televising of images of Hussein in captivity would help deflate or discourage those fighting against the coalition led by the United States, "then we opt for saving lives."

"He has been handled in a professional way," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing. "He has not been held up as a public curiosity in any demeaning way."

Regardless, he said, "It's terribly important that he be seen by the public for what he is."

Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. forces had temporarily decreased the number of patrols immediately after Hussein's capture, in hopes that it might inspire other high-ranking Iraqis to surrender. He would not say whether he was referring to specific Iraqis.

Now, he said, the pace of patrols had returned to its previous average of about 1,000 a day.

Rumsfeld said U.S. soldiers had been given no special instructions on what to do if they came across Hussein.

"No one was told, `Don't kill him.' No one was told, `Kill him,'" Rumsfeld said.

Unlike his sons, Odai and Qusai, who went down shooting, Hussein chose to surrender.

The secretary offered a bit of new information on Hussein's days as a fugitive, disclosing that for at least one stretch Hussein spent several hours in what appeared to be a taxi.

"He didn't have the meter running," Rumsfeld said.

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