Tuesday, January 3, 2006

LONDON — Saddam Hussein has told his lawyers that he wants to be shot by firing squad, not hanged, if sentenced to death during his murder trial, which resumes later this month in Baghdad.

Saddam maintains that he is still commander in chief of Iraq’s armed forces — and that a firing squad is “the right way” to execute a military leader.

“I’m not afraid of death,” he told two of his lawyers in an astonishingly candid five-hour meeting, as he sat in a comfortable chair at the head of the table.

“Of course I’m not guilty, but I know they want me dead.”

One of his lawyers, Issam Ghazzawi, took extensive notes. During a recent interview in Amman, Jordan, he gave The Washington Times details of the extraordinary discussion.

He and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark met with Saddam on Dec. 7 in a basement room under the heavily guarded courthouse in Baghdad.

No one else was present for this session, which took place during a break in proceedings while Saddam was refusing to return to the dock.

All five of Saddam’s lawyers met with the deposed Iraqi leader in the same setting a week earlier for an hour during a lunch break.

Mr. Clark confirmed most of the details of the meetings in a telephone interview with The Times on his return to New York, although he said the part of the conversation regarding Saddam’s stated preference for a firing squad had not been translated to him by Mr. Ghazzawi at the time.

The trial, which has been interrupted by several adjournments, a temporary walkout by Saddam and harangues from the accused, is to resume Jan. 24.

“Threatening me with death doesn’t mean anything,” Saddam told the two lawyers. “I don’t care less. The life of any one Iraqi is no less valuable than mine.”

The lawyers had delicately raised the possibility of Saddam’s being executed. He responded, “I am the commander in chief. … I prefer it to be by firing squad. I am the commander in chief.”

The ousted president had added, “I don’t value this life that much. Every human being has his time to go.”

Mr. Ghazzawi met with Saddam several times during the 1980s and considered the former president as his hero for decades.

In a series of indictments being prepared against him, Saddam is accused of being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people — charges his lawyers plan to rebut.

He is currently on trial in the 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shi’ite Muslims from the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad.

Saddam told his lawyers that his stand against America, and especially the insurgency that has followed, have been immensely valuable in stopping a superpower in its tracks.

“I’m fighting against U.S. tyranny on behalf of Iraqis, Arabs, all the people of the world. … The U.S. will not be able to formulate a new world,” he told his lawyers.

“They tried in Iraq and failed badly, so by standing against Bush we are protecting other countries and regions of the world. Now the U.S. will think a thousand times before daring to attack another country.”

He also called on Arab states to come to his aid.

“I worked for the Arabs, and I did my duty. It is now time for the Arabs to stand by me,” he told the lawyers.

Saddam said he was exultant about the ongoing insurgency.

“I know the Iraqi people will fight to the end,” Mr. Ghazzawi quoted him as saying. “The Iraqi people are patriotic; they cannot accept foreign rule. Any aggression will be resisted to the end.

“The Americans with their allies will fly out of Iraq very soon, and their puppets will leave even before the Americans.”

He considers all the politicians in the Iraq government to be “puppets” of the occupying armies and said they would be treated like criminals if and when Ba’athists reclaimed power.

Saddam told the lawyers that he did not demand massive revenge for a failed assassination attempt in 1982 in the village of Dujail — the basis of his current trial. He said he just signed death warrants that judges had passed.

“I never asked about the Dujail case since I left that place,” he said.

• Distributed by World News and Features.

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