Saddam Hussein handed over to Iraqi authorities, say lawyers
Baghdad -- Saddam Hussein has been handed over by US military authorities to Iraqi authorities, a defence lawyer of the former Iraqi dictator said Friday, while another defence team member said he expected the execution to go ahead Saturday.
"We now received an email from Lawrence Lee, the US liaison officer between the court and the president, telling us that he has been transferred to the Iraqi responsibility," Ziyad Najdawi told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The handover was also reported by Iraqi television. The handover would mean a final step towards Saddam's execution, although Iraq's criminal code forbids executions during religious festivities.
|A undated handout picture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (C) and his sons Udai (L) and Qusai (R). Saddam Hussein has been handed over by US military authorities to Iraqi authorities a defence lawyer of the former Iraqi dictator said Friday 29 December 2006. The handover would mean a final step towards Saddam's impending execution although Iraqжs criminal code forbids executions during religious festivities. EPA/HANDOUT|
The time set for the execution remained unclear, given that Saddam is a Sunni and that the Sunni eid festival was due to begin within hours of his reported handover to Iraqi authorities.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was reported to be in emergency session with his cabinet - apparently to discuss details of the execution.
CNN quoted an Iraqi Shiite MP as saying a scaffold had been readied in the Green Zone in Baghdad, while a cleric, judge and doctor were on standby amid indications that a hanging was imminent.
Earlier Friday, al-Maliki said the execution would be carried out "without delay", and there was "no going back" with regard to the death sentence.
"Nobody can abrogate the verdict and whoever refuses Saddam's execution underestimates the Iraqi martyrs," al-Maliki told state television. "There will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence," he said.
The head of Saddam Hussein's defence team said he could not rule out the possibility that the ousted Iraqi leader could be executed within days.
"Anything is possible, given our experience with the Americans and their growing lack of credibility across the world," Khalil Duleimi told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Legal sources in Baghdad said the verdict originally handed down November 5 and upheld by an appeals court on Tuesday was decisive, and the Iraqi Ministry of Justice was waiting for a presidential decree for the execution to go ahead.
The lawyer's comments follow reports the previous day by three US television networks which speculated that the execution could be carried out before Sunday, the last day of 2006 and the start of an Islamic festival to mark the end of the hajj, or month of pilgrimage.
NBC, CBS and Fox News Channel cited unnamed US military officials speaking on condition of anonymity, as their sources for the reports.
NBC said that the US military, which has held custody of Saddam during his trials for a 1982 massacre in the Shiite town of Dujail and a second case of alleged genocide against Iraqi Kurds, had received a formal request from the Iraqi government to transfer him to Iraqi authorities, although this was contradicted by other news reports.
Duleimi meanwhile confirmed to dpa that the US military had requested that Saddam's defence team collect his personal effects.
"The American side contacted me ... and said they wanted any person from our side to go to them and retrieve the personal belongings of the president and those of Barzan Tikriti (Saddam's half-brother and former intelligence chief)," Duleimi said.
"I asked them if they had handed over the president to the Iraqi authorities, they failed to confirm this," he said, adding however he believed "all eventualities are possible."
In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour warned against a quick execution of Saddam and also questioned the integrity of the former dictator's trial.
"There were a number of concerns as to the fairness of the original trial, and there needs to be assurance that these issues have been comprehensively addressed," she said in a statement released Thursday evening.
"I call therefore on the Iraqi authorities not to act precipitately in seeking to execute the sentence in these cases," she added.
Saddam and six of his former top government aides were found guilty on November 5 of ordering the killing of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail in 1982 in retaliation for an attempt on Saddam's life.
Iraq's highest appeal court on Tuesday rejected an appeal against the death sentence imposed on Saddam and two co-defendants - Barzan al-Tikriti and former aide Awad Ahmed al-Bandar.
According to the Iraqi constitution, the verdict must be ratified by the president and his deputies before the former dictator is hanged.
The trial was criticised by several world human rights and legal organizations on the grounds that it failed to live up to international standards.
"We have made it clear so far that the trial of the president and his co-defendants represented a flagrant violation of international law," Duleimi said Friday.
He appealed for "immediate intervention" to save the life of the former leader by world human rights and legal organizations, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Arab League and Arab leaders.
The Amman-based defence team comprises some 20 prominent Arab and non-Arab lawyers including former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Naimi. // © 2006 DPA