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THE SITUATION ROOM

Saddam Hussein to Be Executed Tonight

Aired December 29, 2006 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thanks Christine. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

HENRY: Happening now -- breaking news -- Saddam Hussein apparently on the brink of execution. There's new word he will go to the gallows within the next few hours. It's 3:00 a.m. in Baghdad. Our correspondents are tracking this story from every single angle.

MALVEAUX: Can Hussein's execution be stopped? His lawyers are making a last ditch appeal here in the United States but an Iraqi judge calls it rubbish.

HENRY: And security watch, will Hussein's hanging put Americans at risk for revenge attacks? Tonight the potential for new danger right here and in war-torn Iraq.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We welcome our viewers around the world tonight. Breaking news from Baghdad -- the scaffolding is in place, the paperwork in order and Saddam Hussein's hanging could be just hours away.

HENRY: An Iraqi appeals court judge tells CNN the execution will happen before dawn in Iraq by 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time and just a short while ago two Arabic language TV networks reported that Hussein could go to the gallows within the hour.

Our correspondents are standing by. Gary Nurenberg is here in Washington. CNN's Aneesh Raman and Arwa Damon are in Baghdad. First to you Aneesh -- what's happening there on the ground?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ed as you mentioned, CNN has been told the execution of Saddam Hussein will take place by dawn Saturday. It's now 3:00 a.m. That means within the next three hours, by 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Also as you mentioned, reports on two Arab language experts that the execution could take place within the hour. We've heard recently from a Shia member of parliament who says he has seen the gallows within the highly fortified green zone there. A medic, a cleric and a judge are waiting on standby for official word from Iraq's prime minister as to when this execution will take place. There are two lingering questions.

First, what will Iraqis if not the world see of this execution? The only official statement we have been given has come from a judge in the Iraqi high tribunal who simply said there will be no live broadcast of Saddam's execution. That doesn't exclude video emerging later or perhaps still photos. We simply don't know at this moment.

The second question, whose custody is Saddam in? there had been great confusion today as to whether he was in U.S. custody or Iraqi custody, but we've heard again from that judge, from the Iraqi high tribunal, that when that handover happens the execution he expects will take place almost immediately. So while Saddam might as we speak currently be in U.S. custody, that handover will happen, perhaps minutes before an execution that CNN has been told will take place within the next three hours -- Ed.

HENRY: Thanks very much -- Aneesh Raman there on the ground.

MALVEAUX: And of course let's now turn to CNN's Arwa Damon. She is also in Baghdad with details on the mood in the Iraqi capital as the country awaits word of Saddam's execution. Give us a sense of what is their fear, anticipation. What are you hearing, what are you feeling from the Iraqi people?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, a lot of the Iraqis that we've spoken to are really bracing themselves for this execution. They're bracing themselves for any sort of violence that might happen thereafter. The mood here on the streets of Baghdad is really a combination of apprehension and both anticipation. There are a lot of mixed emotions.

The Iraqis really seem to be split pretty much along sectarian lines. There are those who suffered most under Saddam Hussein's regime, namely the Sunni, the Shia and Kurdish population, rather they are viewing this as being the end of an era. They are saying that this is finally Iraq's former dictator brought to justice.

There are others, though, who view this entire trial as being fundamentally flawed, as being unfair. They do not feel that this execution should be taking place. But just to give you an idea, the capital right now is fairly quiet. It is under curfew. But I spoke to one of the gentlemen who are behind me. He said that he was very much looking forward to seeing Saddam Hussein hang.

HENRY: Thanks very much. Arwa Damon, we'll be back to you throughout the hour. We appreciate that report.

And here in Washington, there's another angle. A federal court has received a last-ditch request by Saddam Hussein's lawyers to try and block this execution. An answer could come very soon. Let's check in right away with CNN's Gary Nurenberg. Hi, Gary.

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Ed and Suzanne. Saddam's lawyers here in Washington say this stay of execution is necessary to protect his rights. The suit is predicated on the United States still having custody of Saddam and as you know, there's conflicting information tonight about whether that is still the case. Here's the argument as outlined in the application.

Saddam's rights are being violated because he has not received proper notice of a civil suit where the plaintiff is asking for monetary damages. Saddam's lawyers argue that civil suit could affect his estate and that Saddam has the right to respond. The suit is brought by a man who says his father was tortured and killed for opposing Saddam's decision to invade Kuwait.

The Justice Department is aware of the suit but has not filed a formal response. If Saddam is still in U.S. custody the court could arguably say it still has jurisdiction but it's important to remember the death sentence was imposed by Iraqi courts under Iraqi law and it's a stretch to say that a stay issued here in Washington could stop an Iraqi government function.

Judges in the United States are used to hearing last-minute long- shot appeals from the lawyers of death row inmates and lawyers know sometimes they work. We're told that a decision could come very soon. We'll watch it and let you know.

MALVEAUX: Gary thanks so much. Appreciate that.

And of course we're going to talk more about these new developments regarding Saddam Hussein's imminent execution. Giovanni DiStefano is one of Hussein's lawyers. He joins us on the phone from Rome. We spoke with you just the last hour or so and we've got new developments that this execution, of course, is imminent. What do you know about your client's fate here and have you spoken with him? Where is he now and how he is spending his final hours?

HENRY: We're going to be trying to re-establish connection with him. Giovanni, he has been saying throughout the day various things about -- first he told me on the phone off the air that in fact Saddam Hussein was now in Iraqi custody. And that's why he was pushing so hard to try to get this stay in court, that Gary Nurenberg explained and as you know, he came on the air to tell us that basically things had changed, and now it turned out Saddam Hussein was U.S. custody. Let's take a listen to what he told us a little earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Is it true that Saddam Hussein's half brothers visited him in prison just yesterday and that he presented one of those brothers with the will to state his intentions? Are you aware of that?

GIOVANNI DISTEFANO, SADDAM HUSSEIN'S ATTORNEY (via phone): Yes, I am. And of course he's 70 years of age. And that's nothing abnormal whatsoever and in the situation that he faced, with a sentence of death and with a confirmation of a sentence of death it is the appropriate and correct thing to -- and responsible thing to do. Remember Saddam Hussein is a lawyer.

HENRY: OK, now, earlier you also told me that you had passed on and authorized a power of attorney to someone else in Baghdad to actually collect the body eventually from the Iraqi government. Can you talk about that first of all, and secondly, what are the intentions of the Hussein family? My understanding is they want the body to go to Jordan.

DISTEFANO: Well, I mean the body belongs to the family, belong to the next of kin. It doesn't belong to the government. And that's the same, of course, under American law, English, Italian law, in any civilized law and in the event and I hope it's the unlikely event, but in the event that Saddam Hussein, Mr. Al-Tikriti and Mr. Awad Bandar are executed, obviously the families want the bodies, and they want the bodies sooner rather than later. And there is of course a power of attorney, because you can't simply go and claim a body if you have no power of attorney.

(AUDIO GAP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And I think we actually have made a connection that we have him back on the phone. Thank you for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. What is the reaction to the developments within the last hour or so of news that Saddam Hussein, of course his execution, just hours away now?

DISTEFANO: Well hours away, of course, subject to what the judge, District Judge Collen Kollar-Kotelly decides in Washington. It's perfectly normal for an execution to be prepared for everything to -- to proceed with. Of course there's always the last-minute applications. This, may I say, is not a last-minute application. It was filed first on the 18th of December and secondly, it was reaffirmed yesterday. So it is not a last-minute ditch to do anything. The government has been made well aware of this situation there. It is simply that the hearing is taking place as we speak. So as soon as we have a decision...

HENRY: Let's go beyond the hearing for a moment. We now have word from the Iraqi government that he is expected to be executed before 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time here, within three hours. What's your reaction?

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY: Based on your last conversation with Saddam Hussein -- I know it was a couple weeks ago -- talk about Saddam Hussein. Take us inside there. What has he been thinking in recent weeks about his fate?

DISTEFANO: Well, Saddam Hussein is ready to die. I mean he does not -- did not want to hear anything about any type of appeals. He didn't want to make any type of -- there's no question of pardon, of course, there. That word, you know, he canceled from the vocabulary completely. I mean he is a very strong person. He is an Iraqi citizen. He has spent most of his time in Iraq, even as president, he would very rarely go out of Iraq. He would always want to stay in Iraq and he will remain an Iraqi citizen and he is a man that's ready to die. However, our role is to keep him alive, and that is the job that we are doing.

MALVEAUX: Giovanni, we have our own Aneesh Raman who's in Baghdad who wants to ask you a question. He has been following the details about this. Aneesh, go ahead.

RAMAN: Yes, Mr. DiStefano, two questions. First is it your understanding that Saddam Hussein remains in U.S. custody because of the ongoing legal proceedings in the United States? And secondly if your scenario plays out, do you think we could we really see on the ground a situation where U.S. forces are holding back Saddam Hussein despite a request made by Iraqi authorities to hand him over. With them all set for an execution that U.S. forces would actually not listen to the Iraqis and hold Saddam Hussein back.

DISTEFANO: Well I understand that he's physically in the custody of the United States military, although legally in the custody of the Iraqi government. That if the judge grants the temporary restraining order, the United States military, the two commanders that we have named in the lawsuit, President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and the defense secretary are duty bound, and if they violate it or breach that order, it would be contempt of court and the consequences, of course, are well known for a contempt of court, since you know, imprisonment is one of the consequences as well as potential impeachment for the president.

HENRY: But you realize, Giovanni, that in all reality, the president of the United States is not going to be jailed over this. You've raised the prospect of impeachment and that Democrats may support it. They've already said they're not supporting impeachment. This is really a stretch. I mean the clock is ticking here and it really seems like all legal options have been exhausted.

DISTEFANO: Well you know we -- our job is to do the very best that we can under the circumstances and in a very proper manner. We have filed this application. It's not a last-minute stay. This was done on the 18th. It's just that the hearing, purely by coincidence is today. Now, that is the situation that is all that we can do there. If a restraining order is granted, the United States of America are duty bound, are bound by a United States district court judge's order, and if they violate that, then they must face the consequences. Whatever the consequences will be it will be for the judge to decide.

MALVEAUX: And certainly part of your job as well is to prepare your client for his fate. What does he want to do? What's his intention, his final hours before he is executed? Have you gotten a sense from his family of what he would like to do?

DISTEFANO: Well -- you know, obviously sort of in the unlikely event, and I really hope it's the unlikely event that he is executed, the family, quite rightly and quite properly, want his body as well as the families of Mr. Al Tikriti and Mr. Al-Bander. It is normal to request, you know, to request you know your father, your husband's body if that is the case. And that is -- that's the next role that we will have to deal with. As I said, we've already -- a power of attorney has already been issued to a person in Baghdad. And in the unlikely event that he is executed, then I sincerely hope that the American government and the Iraqis will at least if they don't respect a little bit of humanity while he is alive they'll respect that when he's dead.

HENRY: OK, thank you very much for that. Giovanni DiStefano, one of Saddam Hussein's attorneys joining us on the telephone from Rome. I also want to thank our correspondent Aneesh Raman in Baghdad. We'll be back to him throughout this hour. So you're going to want to stay here. We'll also talk about Saddam's imminent execution with Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations. What impact does he think it will have on his very troubled nation?

MALVEAUX: Also, how does Saddam want to be remembered? CNN's own Bernard Shaw asked him in a landmark interview and we'll show you.

HENRY: And we're now nearing the end of a long saga that started with the fall of Baghdad. We'll show you how we got here. Saddam's execution now believed to be just hours away. And we'll take you back live to Baghdad where our correspondents are monitoring last-minute developments.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: In the lead up to the first Gulf War 15 years ago Saddam Hussein was still a powerful and threatening force in the Middle East.

MALVEAUX: Then CNN anchor Bernard Shaw sat down for a rare interview with the Iraqi president and asked him about his legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 29, 1990)

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: President Saddam, we are all mortal beings. When you die, how do you want to be remembered?

SADDAM HUSSEIN, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ (through translator): My other writing preoccupation is how I'm going to face God, and a true believer is always dreaming that God almighty is satisfied with him, and it is important to me that good people on this land will have understood me in the right way and as sufficiently right a manner as is possible. And I'm confident -- indeed I believe that people, the great people of Iraq and the people of the glorious Arab nation will remember us with, favorably -- will remember us favorably, with good memories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Saddam Hussein himself, reflecting on his legacy during a CNN interview back in 1990. Let's talk more now about all of these new developments on Saddam Hussein's imminent execution.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, with us, Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations. He joins us now from New York. Since we've last spoken in the last hour or so CNN has been told by an Iraqi judge that this is imminent. His execution some time between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. Baghdad time, 9:30 to 10:00 Eastern our time -- we know that this is going to be videotaped in some way but not live. How are the pictures going to be distributed to the Iraqi people to assure them, reassure them that this execution is actually going to take place?

FEISAL ISTRABADI, IRAQI DEPUTY AMB. TO U.N.: Well, I mean I don't know specifically. As you can imagine, those kinds of details are held very strictly closely on a need-to-know basis. And as I sit here in New York I don't really need to know. We'll find out. But the -- clearly there will be some way of making it clear that when this sentence is executed, that it in fact has been, to end any speculation on the matter.

MALVEAUX: Since we last spoke, have you had a chance to, again, reach out to Iraqi officials who you talk to, who have given you the latest update here on when this would happen and how?

ISTRABADI: Well we -- it's getting a little late in Baghdad, as I'm sure you know. So I haven't -- I didn't try. I've just been calling around other places to see what the news are, and following the news, of course, as you've been announcing it. But I think that it looks like we're approaching an end stage and I think that there has been a general belief on the part of most Iraqis that once the sentence is confirmed, that it's time, that there should not be a tremendous amount of time go by before it's executed.

HENRY: And how big of a factor do you think is the Muslim holiday that is coming up in Iraq to get this done before the holiday kicks off?

ISTRABADI: Well, it may be. I mean to some extent it's -- you know it's sort of like executing someone on Christmas. It's generally not done. And -- so there may be some thought that we might as well get it over with. But I really think that the overriding consideration is that there has been a valid court judgment, which has now been affirmed by the appellate chamber and that there's no real reason to delay execution of sentence.

HENRY: And do you have any more information now on whose custody Saddam Hussein is in at this moment? As you know, there's been confusion throughout the day. What's the best information...

ISTRABADI: Well once again, I mean the critical point is that legal custody is in the Iraqi government. It has been for more than two years. So in that sense, I don't know what's happening in Washington, but one wonders whether it really seeks an advisory opinion there, because legal custody rests with the government of Iraq. The handing over is a purely administration act, as to which I would guess the government of the United States would have no -- no right to refuse, because legal custody, again, rests with the government of Iraq. And so I don't think that it really makes much difference in the end. We appear genuinely to be in the end stage at this point.

MALVEAUX: What kind of preparations is the government now making, being in the end stage here, for a possible uprising, an up- tick in violence, particularly from the Sunnis?

ISTRABADI: Well, again, I think it's -- we make a real mistake in speaking in broad terms about an up-tick of violence from the Sunnis. The Sunnis like the rest of the Iraqis have suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein, and -- but I take your point that there are pro- Saddam elements in the -- among those who are causing violence in Iraq today and whatever their numbers are, as we well know here in New York, small numbers of people can cause a tremendous amount of damage. I take that point.

I think we can anticipate that the government has in place contingency plan, perhaps a curfew. I've heard that that may be possible, and other similar sorts of approaches to the security situation, but I think generally -- I don't actually think that this really is going to amount to very much. I mean the fact of the matter is that Saddam Hussein is very much a part of our tragic and brutal past.

He is no longer I don't believe a factor, other than in his own mind perhaps and in that of his own lawyers, perhaps in his family's. The fact of the matter is that he represents a past that we are attempting to put behind us as we attempt to rebuild our shattered country, a country shattered as a result of his legacy.

MALVEAUX: Ambassador Istrabadi, thank you so much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ISTRABADI: My pleasure.

MALVEAUX: And of course up ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM we'll take you back live to Baghdad where our correspondents are standing by with the latest on Saddam's execution.

HENRY: Also, another grim milestone for U.S. forces in Iraq -- the Pentagon now reporting more American deaths. We'll have the very latest for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: To our viewers in the United States and around the world, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

HENRY: Happening now, Saddam Hussein may not live to see the New Year or even the next few hours. An Iraqi judge says his hanging could happen in less than three hours, but two Arabic language TV networks say Saddam Hussein could be put to death much sooner.

MALVEAUX: Hussein's attorneys have filed papers in a U.S. court to block the execution but an Iraqi judge says the action is pointless and that Hussein's sentence is final.

HENRY: Meanwhile, paying respects -- former President Gerald Ford's remains are at his home church in Palm Desert, California right now. Tomorrow his casket will be flown to Washington.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to go back to Baghdad right now for the breaking news on Saddam Hussein's execution, which by all accounts could happen very soon.

HENRY: That's right. We have Arwa Damon and Aneesh Raman, they're both in Baghdad. First to you Aneesh -- what are you picking up?

RAMAN: Ed, we've been told that the execution of Saddam Hussein could take place in the next 2 1/2 hours, by dawn Saturday. Not could, will take place. We've heard as well from two Arabic language networks that the execution could take place within the hour. That word had come a half hour ago. So it seems on the ground that everything is set for this execution to happen within the coming hours.

Two lingering questions -- first, what if anything will Iraqis see of this execution? An official with the Iraqi high tribunal has told CNN there will be no live coverage of Saddam Hussein's hanging but we heard from Iraq's deputy ambassador to the U.N. just a short time ago on THE SITUATION ROOM that the government presumably would use some method to make Iraqis aware that Saddam Hussein was executed. To debug any rumors that it didn't happen.

Now the other lingering question, whose custody is Saddam Hussein in? All day there's been speculation as to whether he's in U.S. or Iraqi custody. A court official says that handover can happen immediately prior to the execution and that he expects when that handover happens the execution would rapidly follow it. We heard from one of Saddam Hussein's lawyers though, Giovanni DiStefano. He's suggesting that perhaps U.S. forces would hold on to Saddam Hussein because of ongoing legal proceedings in the United States.

If you follow that course through, though, the Iraqi government who faces no legal recourse, who has sovereignty legally over Saddam Hussein, could face a power struggle, if you will, trying to get Saddam Hussein as he's held by U.S. forces. That is by all indications on the ground highly unlikely -- a court official saying that the proceedings in the U.S. have nothing to do with what will happen here -- Ed?

HENRY: Thanks very much -- Aneesh Raman on the ground there in Baghdad. As I noted we also have CNN's Arwa Damon. Let's go straight to her for more on the mood. Give us a flavor, Arwa, exactly what the Iraqi people are thinking, what they're saying right now. DAMON: Well, Ed, the streets of the capital are fairly quiet right now. There is the overnight curfew in place. But what we're hearing from Iraqis, that we've been able to speak to is that at least in Baghdad and presumably across the entire country, everybody is awake. They've been following this news very closely.

The rumors began early in the day today about the execution, that it may be taking place today. That it may be taking place early in the hours of Saturday. As the story gained momentum we saw an increase in both apprehension amongst the Iraqi people, as well as a sense among some people of relief that finally the era of Saddam Hussein would be coming to an end.

Pretty much across the board, though, not much of a sense that the death of Saddam Hussein would do much to decrease the violence. There is a sense that perhaps after Saddam is executed, there will be, in fact, an increase in the violence.

But there's also this sense of disbelief and relief. There's a sense amongst Iraqis of "Is this really going to happen?"

I spoke with one Iraqi who said to me, "Look, whether you were for or against Saddam Hussein, he did rule Iraq for decades and now his rule is coming to an end."

MALVEAUX: And Arwa, you bring up a very good point. Security, really a number one concern. I know you have spoken to people in Iraq as well. And the Bush administration has a vested interest in the death of a man, of course, that it calls a man that it certainly calls a tyrant.

Our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano is with the president in Crawford, Texas.

Elaine, tell us about the mood and the sense of the president and close aides with him now.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Bush himself stayed out of view at his ranch, continuing to mull over the various options for his Iraq policy. But on a day when there have been conflicting reports about Saddam Hussein's impending execution, Bush administration officials tried to dispel the notion of any kind of coordination between Baghdad and Washington on this execution.

In fact, when asked about the timing of the execution itself and what the United States was hearing about that today, Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel would only say, quote, "We are observers to that process. They are a sovereign government and they will make their own decisions regarding carrying out that justice."

Now, these developments are all happening, of course, one day after President Bush huddled with his war cabinet at his ranch. After about three hours the president said he believed that they were making progress in terms of crafting that new Iraq policy. But he also made very clear that he was not ready to announce any changes just yet. He said that he wanted to hold more consultations with the Iraqi government and also members of Congress -- Ed and Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Elaine, we don't expect that we're going to see the president any time soon to make a statement about Saddam Hussein's execution, but we did see certainly in the midterm elections of the campaign, that once it was announced that he was being executed, he said this was just another example of Iraqi people taking responsibility for their own future, their own fate. I imagine we're going to hear kind of a similar message in the days to come.

QUIJANO: Yes, absolutely. And we already had heard, in fact, from the White House that, in fact, they were glad to see that the Iraqis were, in fact, using the institutions of democracy to pursue justice. That, in keeping, of course, with what the president had said is his overall goal in Iraq -- is to see and Iraq that is a democracy in that part of the world that can survive and thrive.

And the president reiterating just this week that is, in fact, what he wants to see in the coming year. But it is coming at a difficult time politically. The president, obviously under a great deal of political pressure to change course in Iraq -- Ed and Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks to our colleague, Elaine Quijano.

HENRY: And when Saddam Hussein is put to death, there's some concern over possible retaliation against the United States.

MALVEAUX: CNN's homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has details on what the government is saying about those concerns.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Ed, Suzanne, a Department of Homeland Security official says a bulletin is being prepared for distribution tonight to state and local law enforcement, Homeland Security officials and emergency managers, telling them that the U.S. does not have any specific or credible information indicating that there will be any retaliatory attacks in the U.S. when Hussein is executed.

The official says, however, there has been some web traffic, things picked up on websites, warning of grave consequences for America and saying the resistance will retaliate if and when Hussein is killed.

This official says, however, that the U.S. has not found any corroborating information and does not believe that the Baath Party or supporters of Hussein are prepared to carry out any sort of actions on U.S. soil.

The official says this bulletin is being sent simply out of an abundance of caution.

Ed, Suzanne, back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jeanne.

And, of course, let us quickly bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She is picking up details on the types of web threats that we're seeing in response to Saddam Hussein's imminent execution.

Jacki, what are you observing?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne we want to point out that this is not necessarily the specific website or web chatter that the Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring or is referring to. But we did make note that this message turned up online this week on the Saddam Baathist Party website, warning there will be retribution and retaliation if the Saddam execution is carried out.

They say simply they are determined to retaliate in all ways. The Baathist Party, loyalists to Saddam Hussein, say they hold the U.S. responsible for Saddam's execution. They call his execution a, quote, "most dangerous red line," end quote, that Bush administration should not cross.

Again, this posted online on a Saddam Party Baathist -- loyalist website. We should point out the Baathists are part of the insurgency against the United States and its allies. They have been fighting against the U.S. since the Hussein regime fell in 2003.

And they also point out that his execution will just fan the flames of the armed resistance and will do nothing to quell it -- Suzanne, Ed.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Jacki.

This story, obviously, being monitored all around the world.

And just ahead, will the U.S. send more troops to Iraq? Our Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon with the very latest.

MALVEAUX: We'll also show you why some fear Saddam could cause as much trouble in death as he did in life.

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: There is a lot of concern that even in death, Saddam Hussein could continue to cause serious problems in Iraq.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us with that part of the story.

What are you hearing, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, serious warnings tonight that the violence in Saddam Hussein's troubled country could get even worse after his execution.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): Even in custody, no one cut a more menacing figure. Like this time in power, Saddam Hussein's M.O. at trial was intimidation. A psychology that runs deep through his country's emotional veins, and why some experts believe Iraqi authorities wanted to execute him quickly.

The troublesome irony now, they say, is that Saddam, in death, may be more dangerous than he was alive.

HISHAM MELHEM, AL-ARABIYA: For certain, there will be a spike in the level of violence. This violence could be (INAUDIBLE) violence.

TODD: Sunnis will almost certainly attack Shias, experts say. Especially if the Shia population engages in widespread rejoicing at the death of their long-time torturer. But regardless of the Shia reaction, observers say, minority Sunnis who enjoyed privilege and power under Saddam will be pushed further into a corner.

MELHEM: This is going to be seen by the Sunnis as another insult, as another qualitative leap in the attempts of the Shia of Iraq to have a monopoly on government in Iraq at their expense.

TODD: But Shias aren't the only ones in danger. The Ba'ath Party which Saddam led has issued a statement that his execution will lead it to "... retaliate in all ways and all places that hurt America." And this comes as President Bush is about to announce a change in U.S. strategy in Iraq and a possible influx of American troops. The face of the enemy of Sunni insurgents, some allied with al Qaeda.

KEN ROBINSON, MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: The information operations objective of the insurgency is to make it felt at home in the United States. And to do that, you need to send soldiers home in body bags. And that's pretty much what they're going to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (on camera): Other experts point out much of the insurgency has never relied on Saddam for direction or inspiration. But this could fit their pattern of looking for any excuse to attack fellow Iraqis or Americans -- Ed, Suzanne.

HENRY: Thanks, Brian Todd. Very important part of this story.

And up ahead tonight, details of Pentagon plans to increase U.S. forces in Iraq. Military planners might beef up the U.S. presence by thousands.

MALVEAUX: Plus, the execution of Saddam Hussein now expected within hours. We'll show you how we arrived at this point.

We also have a correspondent standing by live in Baghdad with all the latest developments.

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: December has now tied October as the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq this year. That word coming even as we're learning that the Pentagon plans to perhaps increase U.S. forces in Iraq if President Bush takes that option.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us live with those details.

Obviously a very tense time right now.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Suzanne, Ed, a tense time in the year about to end in Iraq on a very tragic note for U.S. troops. As of today, with three Marines killed in Anbar Province in the west, the toll now for December so far: 106 troops died in Iraq this month so far. That ties October, which was the deadliest month of the year. And, of course, the month of December is not over.

This comes as U.S. commanders have developed what they call a proposed course of action. If President Bush wants to increase troop levels in Iraq by some 20,000 to deal with the violence on the ground, there is a plan on how they might accomplish that. Sources tell CNN that that would involve leaving two Marine Corps regiments in Iraq beyond their February return date when they were expected to return home.

Marines go for a seven-month tour. Army goes for a one-year tour. So it might be a little easier to leave the Marines in place a little longer.

Two Marine regiments would stay. Some Army units might cut their training just a bit short and try and go a bit earlier, if it doesn't impinge on their combat capability. Commanders, nonetheless, very worried that such a massive shift in the rotation schedule will only strain the force further.

Of course, President Bush has not yet made a formal decision -- Ed, Suzanne.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Barbara Starr.

An already stretched thin military being stretched further.

Up ahead, we're continuing to track the fate of Saddam Hussein and any new information on the timing of his execution that could happen very soon.

MALVEAUX: And next, mourning in California. The first in a series of memorials for former President Gerald Ford and a first glimpse at his widow since his death, here in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: We're waiting for the execution of Saddam Hussein, expected to happen within the next two hours and ten minutes.

Let's go straight to Baghdad. Our correspondent Aneesh Raman has been all over this story.

What are you hearing, Aneesh? ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At our highest contact within the Iraqi High Tribunal, an appellate justice who expects to be a witness at this execution says he hasn't been called yet -- we just spoke to him a few moments ago -- to come to the actual area where Saddam Hussein will be executed.

All indications, though, suggest it will happen by dawn Saturday in about two hours from now. That, despite reports we had seen earlier on some Arab language networks that it could have happened already.

He is essentially still awaiting word and we are still expecting within the next few hours for Saddam Hussein to be executed -- Ed.

MALVEAUX: Aneesh, do we know if that final step has been taken? Saddam Hussein physically moved to that location and in Iraqi custody?

RAMAN: We don't. Things have gone essentially silent out of Iraq's government. Also, if I recall correctly, we haven't had a statement from U.S. officials for some time. They've been saying all day he's still in U.S. custody. This judge in the appellate court says that handover can happen immediately prior to the execution. And in fact, that is his expectation. So he could still, Saddam Hussein, very well be in U.S. custody. That would not, though, push the deadline that the Iraqis seem to have set for this execution to take place by dawn -- Suzanne.

HENRY: Aneesh, you've been digging out very interesting details throughout the day, recent weeks, of course. Talk to our viewers about these red cards. The red card that Saddam Hussein is expected to get is when he knows his fate?

RAMAN: It's a sign of the high emotions that exist, the historical context. These Iraqi politicians are Iraqis as well. They bear the same hatred on many levels, the same anger toward Saddam Hussein.

Right before he is hung, we understand, that waiting for him in the gallows is a red card. The significance of that -- under Saddam Hussein's regime, those who were executed were handed a similar card prior to their execution. This one will be handed to Saddam Hussein. We understand it's been signed by Iraq's justice minister, condemning Saddam Hussein to death. So he will see a bit of how his regime operated in his final moments -- Ed.

MALVEAUX: Aneesh Raman, thanks so much for those details.

And of course, also tonight, Californians are saying farewell to former President Gerald Ford at a California church, where family and friends shared prayers and memories earlier today. Former first lady Betty Ford began the lengthy process of public mourning that will take her here to Washington tomorrow. CNN's Dan Simon is in Palm Desert, California, obviously an emotional day.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Suzanne. Mr. Ford's body now lying in repose here at the church in Palm Desert, California. His body now being viewed by members of the public. We understand that thousands of people are expected to file through the church.

Earlier today, we saw Mrs. Ford for the very first time since she lost her husband. She received her husband's casket at the front of the church. There was a small, private service for close friends and family. Among those in attendance included former congressman and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, as well as former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Again, the body lying in repose. This church going to be open throughout the night. They want to allow as many people as possible to say goodbye to Mr. Ford.

Tomorrow, his body is going to be flown to Washington, D.C. There will be a state funeral tomorrow evening in the Capitol. Sunday and Monday, his body will lie in state in the rotunda. And then on Tuesday, there will be a service at the National Cathedral.

Finally, on Wednesday, the sixth day of the funeral, Mr. Ford's body will be flown to Michigan, where he will ultimately be laid to rest in his presidential museum in Grand Rapids. Ed and Suzanne, back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thanks so much for those details. And of course, we should let you know that Wolf Blitzer will be back in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow with special live coverage of ceremonies as the body of former President Gerald Ford arrives in Washington. That begins at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, 2:00 Pacific right here on CNN.

A private funeral today for James Brown in his hometown near Augusta, Georgia. Hundreds of people filled the church, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, boxing promoter Don King and comedian Dick Gregory. That followed yesterday's public viewing at New York's Apollo Theater, where Brown debuted in 1956. Thousands of fans turned out there to pay the respects to the man known at the Godfather of Soul. James Brown died of heart failure Christmas morning at age 73.

And up ahead, the man many called the Butcher of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein, now expected to be executed within hours. Wolf Blitzer will show us how we got to this point.

HENRY: And coming up immediately follows THE SITUATION ROOM, a special edition of "THIS WEEK AT WAR," hosted by John Roberts. CNN correspondents standing by live in Baghdad with all the latest developments of Saddam Hussein's imminent execution. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: We continue to follow all the latest developments on the imminent execution of Saddam Hussein, now believed to be just hours away. His death will be the culmination of a long saga that began when he went into hiding as Baghdad fell to U.S. forces in 2003. Wolf Blitzer shows us how he got to this point.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Missile strikes. Near misses. Raids. Sweeps. Ambushes. Nearly nine months of it boils down to a series of tips, interrogations, so-called actionable intelligence, and a final push.

LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, COMMANDER, COALITION GROUND FORCES: At about 18:00 hours last night, under the cover of darkness and with lightning speed, the Raider brigades forces were positioned and began movement towards the objectives northwest of Ad-Dawr (ph).

BLITZER: Saddam Hussein hadn't ventured far, about 15 kilometers south of his home town, Tikrit. U.S. forces converge on a rural compound.

The assault team, the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division with special forces mixed in. Any civilians around see some 600 American troops and have to know something is up.

The team sweep through two locations around the compound called Wolverine One and Wolverine Two, but come up empty. They cordon off the area and intensify the search.

In a small mud hut, covered with bricks and dirt, they find a so- called spider hole.

SANCHEZ: After uncovering the spider hole, a search was conducted, and Saddam Hussein was found hiding at the bottom of the hole. The spider hole is about six to eight feet deep.

BLITZER: Saddam Hussein has a pistol, but does not go down fighting. Taken into custody, whisked off to an undisclosed location. Hours later, these once unthinkable images.

PAUL BREMER, COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.

SANCHEZ: This is Saddam as he was being given his medical examination today.

BLITZER: Coalition commanders had heard all the skepticism. Saddam's loyalists could keep him on the run indefinitely. U.S. generals kept insisting it's only a matter of time before they close in on Saddam, before someone gives him up. In recent days, someone did.

GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: We got more and more information on the families that were somewhat close to Saddam Hussein. Over the last 10 days or so, we brought in about five to 10 members of these families, who then were able to give us even more information. And finally, we got the ultimate information from one of these individuals.

BLITZER: Still unresolved for U.S. commanders, how many loyalists and foreign combatants are still out there and how long they'll hold up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: And join Wolf Sunday morning for "Late Edition." He'll have all the latest news from Iraq to Washington and beyond. That's at 11:00 Eastern, 8:00 Pacific time, "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

MALVEAUX: And this just in, of course, from Reuters. One of the daughters of Saddam Hussein, exiled in Jordan, tells Reuters, according to a family friend, that she would like to see her father buried in Yemen. Goes on to say, asking that he temporarily be buried in Yemen until Iraq is liberated, and then of course reburied in Iraq.

And of course, joining us now, John Roberts. You're following all of this, Saddam Hussein execution, a special edition of "Week at War."

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