Cigars, hair dye for Saddam's final days

By Paul Tait

BAGHDAD - The US military bought Cuban cigars and hair dye for deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein while he was held before his execution because they were "mission essential", a military investigation heard today.

The investigation of Lieutenant-Colonel William Steele, the former commander of the detention centre where Saddam and his top aides were held, also heard that clothing and dry-cleaning were provided to detainees before court appearances after one detainee had appeared in court in his pyjamas.

The deposed dictator was executed for crimes against humanity on Dec. 30.

The evidence came to light during investigations into whether Steele failed to fulfil his obligations as a Field Ordering Officer, or "FOO", who can authorise the purchase of goods not available within the military.

Steven Mickelberg, a special agent with a military procurement fraud unit, said he had asked Steele about expenses at Camp Cropper, the detention facility near Baghdad's international airport, that had been used to buy Cuban cigars.

"He said they were for high-value detainee number one, which he indicated was Saddam Hussein, and that this purchase was authorised and that whatever he wanted, he got," Michelberg told the hearing by telephone from the United States.

Captain Phillip Reiman, whose job was to make sure all "FOO" money at the camp was spent properly, confirmed that cigars were bought because they were considered "mission essential".

Steele's direct boss at the time, Major-General John Gardner, said televisions, radios and DVDs had also been given to some of those held in Camp Cropper's "Compound Five", where the most important detainees were kept.

Gardner rejected suggestions that Saddam handed out cigars to visitors but said the former president may have given some to lawyers or to an officer assigned to monitor his well-being.

"He didn't have visitors, so to speak," Gardner said. "He had a couple of lawyer visits."

Steele is being investigated on nine charges, including aiding the enemy by providing an unmonitored cellular phone to detainees and wrongfully fraternising with the daughter of a detainee.

The investigation was adjourned later on Tuesday, with the chief investigating officer to decide whether or not Steele should face a court-martial.

- REUTERS

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