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Iraq Takes Legal Custody of Saddam Hussein Ahead of Court Appearance - 2004-06-30


Iraq's interim government has taken legal custody of Saddam Hussein.

Although he still remains physically in the hands of American troops, the former Iraqi dictator is no longer considered a prisoner of war but now a criminal defendant preparing to face war crimes charges.

Three days after gaining sovereignty, the Iraqi government Thursday is scheduled to file charges against Saddam Hussein and 11 of his close associates. Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie expects a dramatic day when the former dictator and his top associates are brought into open court to face a long list of crimes allegedly committed during the nearly quarter century of Saddam Hussein's rule.

"Starting with homicide to genocide, using chemical weapons in Halabja ... hundreds of thousands of people killed in the mass graves, tens of thousands of people executed in Abu Ghraib prison, starting three wars. And Saddam Hussein is going to be taken away from the court handcuffed," he said.

A scene that will likely be televised to the world and mark the first time the former Iraqi leader has been seen since American troops were shown giving him a brief medical exam after his capture last December.

But his trial is not expected to actually begin for months while he prepares a defense. But when it does, the Iraqi government intends to broadcast it live to the world. "It's going to be the trial of the century," said Mr. al-Rubaie.

Salem Chalabi, the lawyer overseeing the tribunal set up to try former Iraqi leaders, met with Saddam Hussein and the 11 other defendants Wednesday.

"This was a surreal experience," he said. "He had lost weight. He was not the towering figure that one used to see on TV before. He was visibly nervous because he did not know what was happening. His hair was a bit long, not terribly long but longer than I'd seen before. It was black not gray and he did not have a beard."

After returning to the United States, the man who ran Iraq for the past 14 months met at the White House Wednesday with President Bush, two days after handing sovereignty back to the interim government in Baghdad. Paul Bremer tells CBS he regrets not being able to end the violence in Iraq, which he warns threatens the country's political transition. "They must get security down to a level where the violence allows them to go forward with elections in January," he said.

The Iraqi government is expected to announce new measures as early as this week to combat the country's insurgency but continues to rely on some 160,000 foreign troops, nearly all of them American, for security.

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