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Iraqis take legal custody of Saddam, 11 others

Ousted dictator expected to be charged Thursday

Saddam Hussein is set to be charged with crimes against humanity.
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Iraqi authorities take legal custody of Saddam Hussein.

Rebuilding Iraq remains difficult after the U.S. handover.

The transfer of sovereignty hasn't eased violence in Iraq.
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Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein and 11 high-profile members of his regime are to be arraigned Thursday before an Iraqi judge, with a top Iraq official saying they will be facing charges stemming from "a long list of crimes" and will eventually be brought to justice in "the trial of the century."

Iraqi authorities Wednesday received legal custody of the former dictator and the others and will be held in U.S. military hands until the fledgling Iraqi security apparatus is ready to hold them.

National security adviser Mouaffak al-Rubaie told CNN a judge will read the accusations against Saddam and "11 of his gangsters" in an Iraqi court, one by one. Arrest warrants for the suspects will be issued and they also will be informed of their rights to appoint defense lawyers.

The once-powerful leader himself will be escorted from the court in handcuffs, al-Rubaie said.

"We have a long, long, long list of crimes against Saddam Hussein," al-Rubaie said, citing the chemical attacks in Halabja, the execution of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, people killed in mass graves, and the launching of three wars.

"These are crimes against humanity, homicide and genocides," he concluded.

Months from now, the suspects will be formally indicted. After that, Saddam and his aides will face trial -- all part of a process that his Jordanian attorney asserts will be illegal and unfair.

The historic transfer of Saddam from U.S. to Iraqi custody began on Tuesday night, the end of the first full day of power for the interim government.

Official papers were handed to the U.S. authorities, formally requesting legal custody of Saddam and the others.

Later, the transfer to legal authority took place. It means the 12 are no longer prisoners of war or protected under the Geneva Conventions. Instead, they are criminal suspects under Iraqi law.

During the transfer Saddam -- who was in good health but has lost weight -- looked visibly shaken, according to Salem Chalabi, head of the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

Chalabi said Saddam was advised that he had the right to legal counsel, and he wanted to ask questions but he was told he would be able to ask them during his court appearance Thursday.

The other prisoners are notorious figures from the deposed Baathist dictatorship, including former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, who often defended the regime internationally, and Ali Hassan al-Majid, dubbed "Chemical Ali" for his alleged role in the use of chemical weapons on Iraqi civilians.

Two of Saddam's half brothers are also in the first group, along with his vice president, defense minister and presidential secretary.

Al-Rubaie, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and other observers say the process will be fair and promise that the suspects will be afforded legal rights that were denied citizens during the years of Saddam rule.

At the same time, Mohammed Rashdan, a Jordanian attorney leading Saddam's defense team, dismisses every aspect of the case against his client. He said the court and judges, as well as the war itself, are "illegal."

"There are no minimum requirements of a fair trial in such a tribunal," said Rashdan, asserting that President Bush has made clear his desire that a verdict in a trial will be a "life sentence."

Allawi said they will have the right to represent themselves if they so choose, he said, and that raised the specter of Slobodan Milosevic's war crimes trial at the Hague.

The former Serbian strongman is serving as his own counsel at the trial, which at times has turned into a propaganda showplace.

But Allawi said of Saddam: "I don't think that he will be able to stage a propaganda tool, but it will be a full trial and an open trial."

Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan, who appeared with Allawi at the news conference, added that some former regime officials who remain at large -- such as Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the highest-ranking former official not in custody -- could face trial in absentia.

Al-Rubaie said the trial "is going to be the trial of the century" and "we will try out best to broadcast and show this trial live on television everywhere in the world to see what Saddam has done to this country."

"We are going to demonstrate to the outside world that we in the new Iraq are going to be an example of what the new Iraq is all about," said al-Rubaie, saying there will be a separation of powers with the government not having any influence on the trial proceeding.

"Saddam will be given every right to defend himself" and "Saddam would be given the right to appoint an attorney for himself."

Al-Rubaie said TV viewers will see a man who is "stubborn," and "pigheaded."

"We are not going to see Saddam say, 'I'm sorry. I did these crimes. I apologize to the Iraqi people and please forgive me.' We're not going to see that."

"We believe that applying justice is a very good psychological healing process" for a country that has been traumatized and brutalized, he said.

In an interview with CNN, Feisal al-Istrabadi, the principal drafter of the transitional administrative law, was asked about the availability of war crime evidence if Saddam didn't sign documents approving the actions he is suspected of spearheading.

"The crimes of the regimes were not few and were not small in scale. You are talking about mass public executions. For instance in 1969 there were mass public executions on TV of 13 men.

"These were not hidden crimes, they were in open, under the principles of command responsibility, whether you have a document signed by Saddam or not, under the principles of command, the crimes were so ubiquitous, that I think it would be virtually impossible for Saddam to argue that he did not know."

Of the U.S. Defense Department's 55 most-wanted Iraqis, 45 are in custody. U.S. forces captured Saddam in December near his ancestral homeland of Tikrit in north-central Iraq.

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