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Hussein tends garden, pens poems, official says

LONDON -- Saddam Hussein spends his time in solitary confinement tending a garden, writing poetry, and reading the Koran, according to published reports yesterday that described him as depressed and demoralized.

One of the poems is about George Bush, although it wasn't clear whether that referred to President Bush or his father, Hussein's foe in the 1991 Gulf War.

The Guardian newspaper in Britain and Newsday in New York quoted Bakhtiar Amin, the human rights minister in the new Iraqi government, who said he visited Hussein's cell on Saturday. Amin said he did not speak to the former Iraqi leader.

Amin said Hussein appeared ''in good health and being kept in good conditions," but he ''appeared demoralized and dejected," the Guardian reported.

Hussein's air-conditioned cell in a US military prison is 10 feet wide and 13 feet long and contained a fold-up bed, a table, and a single light bulb, Amin said. Hussein is not allowed to be with other prisoners and has no television, newspapers, or radio.

''Mostly he reads the Koran today," Newsday quoted Amin as saying. ''He feels more afraid for his life."

Amin had little to report on Hussein's poetry. ''One of the poems is about George Bush, but I had no time to read it," Amin said.

He reported that Hussein, 67, was being treated for high-blood pressure and a chronic prostate infection, has a hernia, and was gaining weight after losing 11 pounds during a time when he resisted all fatty foods.

Doctors have given him antibiotics and done tests to make sure he has nothing more serious, such as cancer.

Hussein and other detainees get an MRE (meal ready to eat) breakfast, and hot food twice a day, Amin said. Dessert might include oranges, apples, pears, or plums, but Hussein also likes American muffins and cookies, Amin said.

He is not allowed newspapers, TV, or radio but has access to 145 books -- mostly travel books and novels -- donated by the Red Cross.

Amin said Hussein tends a garden during his daily three-hour exercise period.

''He is looking after a few bushes and shrubs and has even placed a circle of white stones around a small palm tree," Amin was quoted as saying. ''His apparent care for his surroundings is ironic when you think he was responsible for one of the biggest ecocides when he drained the southern marshes."

Amin, a Kurd from Kirkuk, was reportedly the first member of the new Iraqi government to visit the former dictator.

During his visit, Amin said he met Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, who is accused of ordering the use of chemical weapons against Kurds in the late 1980s; and Hussein's half-brother, Barzan al-Tikriti, a former intelligence chief who was Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva until 1998.

''There before me were the men responsible for the industrial pain of Iraq -- mass murderers who were responsible for turning Iraq into a land of mass graves" the Guardian quoted Amin as saying.

Hussein and the other men have not yet been given access to lawyers, Amin said, according to Newsday.

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