American and Iraqi authorities are deciding what to do with prominent Iraqi weapons scientists who were captured or turned themselves in after Saddam Hussein's regime fell. In March, the top CIA sleuth hunting for Saddam's missing WMD arsenal, Charles Duelfer, reported that some high-ranking scientists who feared prosecution by Iraq's new government were reticent with U.S. interrogators. But former Iraqi technocrats "tended to be quite cooperative," Duelfer said: "As far as the WMD investigation is concerned, there is no further purpose in holding many of these detainees."

Discussions about what to do with scientists still in detention are going on both inside the Bush administration and between Washington and Baghdad. Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, said that "appropriate leadership" figures in D.C. were involved in the talks and the Pentagon was consulting with other U.S. agencies. Whitman said the review process was being "coordinated closely with the Iraqi government," and that any announcement of possible releases would likely come from Baghdad. Officials of two other U.S. departments, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that because U.S. military forces had custody of the detainees, the Pentagon had the lead role in deciding their fate. One of those officials said the Iraqi government was examining whether any of the detained scientists should be charged with Saddam-era war crimes.

A flurry of recent speculation has focused on the possible release of Amer al-Saadi, the former lieutenant general who served as Saddam's liaison with U.N. weapons inspectors in the months before the U.S. invasion. Former U.N. inspector David Albright said he'd recently heard credible reports that al-Saadi, a veteran technocrat who turned himself in, might have been freed from custody. But a State Department official, who did not want to be named because of the confidential nature of Iraqi-U.S. discussions, denied al-Saadi had been released. Another scientist who reportedly has been considered for release is bioweapons researcher Rehab Taha ("Dr. Germ"), though the official said she is also still in custody. One prominent Iraqi scientist not in U.S. custody is Jaffar Dhia Jaffar, the so-called father of Iraq's nuclear-weapons program. Jaffar fled Baghdad at the time of the U.S. invasion, and last August told the BBC that Saddam had decided after Operation Desert Storm in 1991 to close down his nukes program. Albright said Jaffar now lives in Syria, where he has been writing books about his truncated career as Saddam's nuclear wizard.


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