FBI discussed advising Saddam Hussein of legal rights, decided no

November 2, 2009

Much has been made over the past few months by some Republicans in Congress about whether terrorism suspects arrested overseas by U.S. military forces must be read their legal rights and the answer has been largely no.IRAQ-SADDAM/

It turns out that the issue was debated at least as far back as early 2004 when American forces captured ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, according to a document released late Friday night under Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union.

A few weeks after the former Iraqi leader was captured hiding in a hole in Tikrit, a memorandum was sent to the FBI’s general counsel, Valerie Caproni, discussing whether Saddam would have to be advised of his legal rights.

The FBI’s counterterrorism division said the primary reason the FBI would be interrogating him would be for “intelligence purposes” rather than for trying him in a U.S. court.

“Significantly, we are aware of no current intent to try Hussein in an United States court,” the memorandum said. “Accordingly, we conclude that the interrogation team is not legally obligated to advise Hussein of his legal rights, which are generally afforded criminal defendants in the United States under Miranda v. Arizona.”

However, the FBI lawyers offered two caveats: if the U.S. government changed its position about trying Saddam in an American court or if the Justice Department or other “political entities with proper authority” who were involved with his interrogation believed he should be advised of his rights.

The memorandum also advised the FBI that Saddam was given “Enemy Prisoner of War” status under the Geneva III Convention which barred any coercion, physical or mental torture to obtain information and required that he be given proper food, water, clothing, showers, sanitary conditions and medical attention while detained.

The four-page document also noted that Iraqi law did not require advising Saddam of his rights nor did the statute creating the tribunal to try him.

Since then, some Republicans have questioned Obama administration officials about whether soldiers on the battlefield are being required to read Miranda rights to suspects they pick up.

FBI Director Robert Mueller in September denied that they were advising captured foreign suspects of those rights and said he did not believe that the issue was causing problems.

“I do believe, sir, if you ask the commanders in the field in Afghanistan or Iraq to determine whether or not the issue of whether or not you give Miranda warnings has ever interfered with their ability to do their job, I think they would say no,” Mueller told Senator Jeff Sessions during a congressional hearing.

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- Photo credit: Reuters/Nikola Solic (Saddam Hussein during his trial)

One comment

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What rights are they not being informed of? Maybe I’m wrong, but don’t the Miranda rights apply only to prisoners who are going to be tried in the US? Or is this about them not being informed they have the right to food, water, etc?