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Attorney Calls Saddam Hussein's Detention Unlawful

One of Saddam Hussein's legal advisers says the former Iraqi leader has been held unlawfully and for too long. He also said the Iraqi government should refrain from making political statements about the former president.

Lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano says the former Iraqi head of state cannot be tried because he has never been told what he is charged with. The lawyer says he belongs to Saddam Hussein's defense team.

Speaking with foreign journalists in Rome, Mr. Di Stefano said an arrest warrant has never been issued for the Iraqi leader and his detention is not legal. "It is 523 days since his Excellency President Saddam Hussein is in custody and to all intents and purposes it is an unlawful detention," he said.

The Iraqi justice minister, Abdel Hussein Shandal, said in Brussels Tuesday that the former Iraqi leader's trial would be over by the end of 2005.

Mr. Di Stefano said he was astounded by the political naivete of Iraqi politicians.

He said they should desist from making political statements like that because they lose credibility. The lawyer said it could take years before a trial for Saddam Hussein takes place and reaches a conclusion. "It would be folly and it would be ludicrous for a trial to occur in a country that is unsafe, that cannot guarantee the safety of anyone in that country," he said.

Mr. Di Stefano says it's unclear if and when such a trial will begin. He insists that as former president, Saddam Hussein is immune from prosecution under the Iraqi constitution, which had been deposited with the United Nations.

After Saddam Hussein was ousted from power, a Special Iraqi Tribunal was established to try the former president and his closest collaborators in their own country. The tribunal is developing charges including executing Iraqi political and religious leaders.

Saddam Hussein has always said he would never leave his country but the lawyer said he would advise his client to seek justice abroad if a trial were to be held and suggested Sweden.

The lawyer also said access to Saddam Hussein has not been denied and he expects to meet with him within the next month outside of Baghdad, where he is imprisoned under American control.

Saddam faces charges that include killing rival politicians, gassing Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988, invading Kuwait in 1990, and suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991. Mr. Shandal said he also would face charges related to the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure.