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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

The Execution of Saddam Hussein

Aired December 29, 2006 - 21:00   ET

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


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, breaking news out of Baghdad -- Saddam Hussein could be executed at any moment, possibly within this hour. We're live in Baghdad with the latest and we'll talk with Saddam's lawyers and a lot more, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening.

The Associated Press is reporting tonight that a top Iraqi official says that Saddam Hussein will be executed by hanging before 6:00 a.m. Saturday, Iraqi time. That's 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. And we're coming up on that, so it could occur in this hour.

We'll be right atop the scene. We'll have many guests checking in with us.

Let's go first to Baghdad and Aneesh Raman, who has been covering this scene all day and all week for us.

Do you hear that, too, Aneesh, that it's going to happen in this hour?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is the expectation, Larry, that it will happen by 6:00 a.m. local, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Some specific times have been bandied about by Iraqi officials, perhaps 9:30 p.m. Eastern.

The sense I'm getting is that they are waiting for dawn to strike Baghdad. Some poetry within that moment. That is when they will execute Saddam Hussein. That we expect to happen within the hour.

We don't know yet whether Saddam has been handed over from U.S. custody to Iraqi officials. That's been the source of a great deal of confusion during the day. But court officials tell us that that hand over could happen immediately prior to the execution. So it doesn't really matter at this stage in whose hands Saddam is in.

One tidbit to tell you about, Larry, an emotional tidbit. Saddam Hussein will be handed a red card as he enters the gallows. Under Saddam's regime, red cards were given to those about to be executed. This one is signed by Iraq's justice minister, condemning Saddam Hussein to death -- Larry.

KING: Aneesh, what's the significance of doing it before 6:00 a.m. Iraqi time?

RAMAN: Well, the sense is, is that there's a holy period of Eid that begins for Sunni Muslims Saturday, today, especially at daybreak. Saddam is a Sunni Muslim. In the Iraqi penal code, it is against the law to execute a prisoner during a Muslim holiday.

So perhaps Iraqi officials trying to escape that a little bit.

But certain officials have told us that they're disregarding that clause, that they don't see any contradiction. Again, it's the sense that they want to do this, though, before the call to prayers come before dawn -- Larry.

KING: Arwa Damon, our CNN correspondent, also in Baghdad, are there a lot of people up now?

It's early in the morning.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Larry, there absolutely -- there absolutely are. You know, the streets right now are fairly quiet. The city is under the usual overnight curfew that begins at 9:00 p.m. local and lifts, actually, at 6:00 a.m.

But what we are hearing is that at home everyone in Iraq is pretty much wide awake, all of them waiting in anticipation of Saddam Hussein's execution.

The rumors here began early Friday morning about the possibility that Saddam Hussein may have been executed or may be executed on Friday, early Saturday. And then the story gained momentum and so did the sense amongst the Iraqi people that finally, whether they were for or against Saddam Hussein, this is such a significant day.

It is the marking of the end of an era in Iraqi history. Those Iraqis that we have been able to speak to are looking toward this day with a certain level of apprehension, fears of potential violence that might happen after Iraq's former dictator is executed.

But, also, a lot of Iraqis here are also looking forward to seeing Saddam Hussein brought to an end, brought down to his knees, brought to justice, they are telling us.

For example, the gentlemen that are behind me right now, they, too, have been up all night. They are awaiting this. And they are saying -- they are telling us that they, in fact, are hoping that his death will actually decrease the violence here.

KING: Arwa and Aneesh are with us throughout the hour.

We'll have a major panel convening, as well.

Let's check in on the phone with Dr. Curtis Doebbler.

Dr. Doebbler was a member of Saddam Hussein's defense team. He argued that the special tribunal which tried Saddam was an illegal court and that the trial was unfair.

He's an international human rights lawyer.

Dr. Doebbler, legally, have you -- is all -- is all hope gone? DR. CURTIS DOEBBLER, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: Well, I should indicate to you, Larry, that every independent legal expert who has reviewed this tribunal has indicated and has concluded that there was an unfair trial. This includes even the U.N. working group on arbitrated tension, who, on the 1st of September, 2006, a working group that I should point out includes even an Iranian member, who would certainly have no sympathy toward our client, has concluded that this trial was patently unfair.

I think that this is a very sad day and it's very unusual that people celebrate an injustice and I do not believe that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

KING: Dr. Doebbler, basically, what was unfair? In a few words, what was unfair?

DOEBBLER: Well, you can see the Human Rights Watch report, which is 100 pages amongst -- there have been dozens of reports written on what is unfair. There was a lack of time and facilities to prepare the defense. The defense lawyers worked as volunteers. Four of them were killed during the trial and all the time, after each one was killed, the United States, who provided security, did not provide any extra security and said we are already providing enough security. Obviously, they were not.

There was no access to evidence. As you know, one of the people who is going to be put to death is the judge at the Dujail trial. He said introduce the papers -- which the prosecution and the judge of the trial said were available -- and I will prove it was a fair trial.

I don't know myself whether or not it was or wasn't a fair trial in 1982, but those papers were never introduced. They told us they had them but they never provided those papers.

KING: Have you spoken to your client?

DOEBBLER: Not in the last few hours. We have tried to have a visit. We have asked because, as you may know, it is one of the rights of a defendant throughout a trial, even until his very execution, to have his lawyers present.

We have been denied that opportunity, as we've been denied almost every other right of the defendant throughout this trial.

KING: And the United States judge, I know that your team appealed to the United States on grounds that they were still being held in United States captivity. They denied any kind of appeal. So apparently, to put it bluntly, your client has no other recourse, correct?

DOEBBLER: I should point out, our client did not appeal to the American authorities. Mr. -- or not, at least, the president did not, the president -- the former president of Iraq, Mr. Saddam Hussein, did not appeal to the American authorities. But Judge Awad Bandar, the one who I told you said if you introduce the court papers from the trial I presided over, I will show you that it was a fair trial. And they refused to do that.

He did apply to the American authorities. The American authorities, somewhat unusually, admitted that he was in their custody but the judge decided still that he would not allow the -- any type of restraining order to be issued, which is very unusual and contrary to otherwise usual practice in habeas corpus cases in the United States, where, whenever you're in somebody's custody, that person is responsible for assuring your right to a fair...

KING: Doctor, do you expect him to be hanged in this next hour?

DOEBBLER: Well, as I said, throughout this trial, the American authorities, who have orchestrated the trial, and the Iraqis who have worked with them, have not respected the law. I don't think at this point there's any reason for us to believe that they will now begin to respect the law.

I think this is a very sad day for justice. With Nuremberg there was victor's justice and we had progressed up into the international criminal court. I think that this is a great step backward and this is aggressor's injustice and will be remembered that way for a long time to come.

KING: Thank you, Dr. Doebbler.

Thank you for being with us and for expressing your point of view.

Dr. Curtis Doebbler, a member of Saddam Hussein's defense team, strongly disagreeing with everything about this trial.

Aneesh Raman and Arwa Damon remain with us.

And when we come back, an outstanding panel will gather together to discuss this.

We'll keep posted, stay right on top of the scene in Baghdad as things may break.

And the members of the panel will include John Roberts, our own CNN senior national correspondent; Robin Wright, the diplomatic correspondent of the "Washington Post;" Michael Weisskopf, the senior correspondent of "Time" magazine; and Peter Arnett, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.

They're all next, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Aneesh Raman and Arwa Damon, stand by in Baghdad. They'll be with us throughout the hour for anything that breaks.

Let's meet our panel.

John Roberts is CNN's senior national correspondent, anchor of CNN's "THIS WEEK AT WAR." He reported from Iraq in October and November.

Robin Wright -- all are in Washington, by the way -- diplomatic correspondent of the "Washington Post." Her most recent trip to Iraq was in October, covering Secretary of State Rice's visit. Among the books she's written, "Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam."

Michael Weisskopf joins us, as well, senior national correspondent, "Time" magazine. He lost his hand to an Iraqi grenade in December of 2003 while traveling in a U.S. Army Humvee as an embedded reporter. He's the author of "Blood Brothers: Among the Soldiers of Ward 57."

And, finally, Peter Arnett, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, former CNN international correspondent, who interviewed Hussein in 1991, two weeks into the first Gulf War.

John Roberts, does this hour look to be it for you?

JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: According to everything that we've received from Iraqi officials, it does, Larry.

They were saying some time between 5:30 and 6:00 their time, which would put it at 9:30 to 10:00 Eastern time.

Don't forget that they are on the cusp here of the second most holy holiday in the Muslim calendar, Eid-Al-Adha, which is the festival of the feast. It's to mark the end of the hajj.

I've watched Eid-Al-Adha close and personal when I was in Pakistan one year, literally, the cattle and sheep being slaughtered in front of every mosque and on every street corner. Not so much of that takes place in Iraq. For one thing, it's far too dangerous to be out in the streets there doing that.

But it does look, from everything that we've heard from Iraqi officials, like this is going to take place.

But then again, Larry, this is Iraq and you just never know.

KING: It's been back and forth all day.

Robin Wright, did Saddam's attorney make any good points?

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST" MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: Well, I think there are a lot of still open questions about Saddam Hussein. After all, there is still an ongoing trial for his genocide against the Kurds and there are many Kurds in the government who had hoped that, at the last minute, the Shiite dominated government would make a decision to delay it for another two or three weeks until that trial could be concluded.

The death toll in that trial is far higher than the one for which he has been found guilty. And so there is -- no, I think there are those in Iraq who would like to see full justice, not just partial justice.

KING: What effect, Michael Weisskopf, will this hanging have on the Iraq War?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME" SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to know, Larry. Obviously, it'll be received with great jubilation among the Shia and Kurd populations, and some recrimination by the Sunni population, of which Saddam was one.

It is quite fantastic, however, if you think of all the blood that has been shed in the hope of toppling this man and arriving at this moment.

This is a society that is riven -- it is roiling. And so much bloodshed happens there on a daily basis that this is a kind of a quaint footnote, it almost seems, to where we are today.

KING: Peter Arnett in his letter, his farewell letter, Saddam Hussein urged Iraqis to embrace a brotherly coexistence and not to hate.

Does that surprise you?

PETER ARNETT, FORMER CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't surprise me because he's certainly perfectly capable of intransigence and putting out a message. But he certainly didn't practice that kind of moderation during his long reign, Larry.

I'll just make one point here. I think that this is an era of -- a political era, but also a media era, because Saddam and his government were very media savvy. Many reporters were in and out of Iraq in the past 16, 17 years and that healed create Saddam, of course, as the major international figure he is today.

KING: We'll be back with our panel.

We want to spend a moment with Issam Ghazzawi, the Jordan-based attorney, a member of Saddam's defense team.

He's in Amman, Jordan.

Are you -- have you run-out of hope, Issam?

ISSAM GHAZZAWI, SADDAM HUSSEIN ATTORNEY: I think there's no place for hope, Mr. Larry. It's too late to hope.

KING: Have you spoken to your client?

GHAZZAWI: One-and-a-half months ago, only.

KING: Do you expect it to happen, with all we've heard, within the next hour?

GHAZZAWI: You know, that they will have to carry it out within the next hour, yes.

KING: Is he being...

GHAZZAWI: Because the holiday begins, they can't do it. KING: Is he being very brave, as it appears?

GHAZZAWI: He is the bravest man I have ever seen in my life. And his court hearings were the lousiest thing I ever heard. He was judged by the Iraqi figures but the whole trial is a theatrical black comedy written by the Americans, directed by the Americans with the faces of some -- somebody who calls himself an Iraqi. They are working with the enemy. They judged the president without any kind of sensible proof. Not only sensible, logical.

There's nothing shown in the court that might convict anybody, whoever he is. It's all hearsay -- I heard somebody killing my brother. But he saw a friend of her -- see -- heard that the president said something.

Everything. And all our pleadings, all our defense, all our requests were denied and rejected without reading because we tried Saddam Hussein as the president.

The judge could have stroke this word he didn't like. But instead of that, he dropped everything we gave him. There was only the prosecutor and judge. The lawyers were there as a decoration for the court.

KING: Thank you, Issam.

Issam joining Dr. Curtis Doebbler in vocally protesting the whole manner of this trial.

We'll be back with our panel.

And, again, we're staying on top of the news in Baghdad. If it happens, you're going to see it here first.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We told you as soon as we get any word, you will hear about it. If we're in the middle of a commercial break and word comes that Saddam Hussein has been hanged, we will cut out of that commercial break and go right to you.

Before we get back with the panel, Aneesh Raman in Baghdad, what will happen to the body?

RAMAN: Well, as far as my understanding of Muslim tradition, the deceased has to be buried, Larry, within a day. We have heard, according to interviews with one of Saddam Hussein's daughters, that she would like him buried in Yemen, and then at some point, when the situation calms down increase, brought back here. One can only imagine what sort of controversy that would spark down the line.

We know, as well, that Khalil Dulaimi, his chief lawyer, was notified today by U.S. officials to make arrangements to pick up Saddam's belongings. The relatives had, at some point, made a desire to come and see Saddam. But Saddam's wife and his eldest daughter are among the most wanted in Iraq for embezzlement and funding terrorism. So it's highly unlikely they would have made it in -- Larry.

KING: John Roberts, what do you make of the lawyers' complaints?

ROBERTS: Well, Larry, lawyers will always complain about a process that they believe has rendered an unfavorable verdict on their client.

You know, there might be something to say that, you know, the court proceedings certainly were quite unusual and certainly the judges went ahead despite a lot of unusual occurrences.

Would that sort of a verdict hold up in an American court of law?

I don't know. That, perhaps, is an open question.

But not surprising that you would hear those sort of complaints, particularly from Saddam Hussein's attorneys.

KING: Robin Wright, what do you think will be the result of this occurrence?

WRIGHT: Well, in some ways this is an anti-climatic event. The United States had hoped that the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the bringing -- bringing him to justice for crimes against humanity and widespread murder would send a strong signal to the autocrats throughout the region and inspire fledgling democratic movements throughout the region.

And this is, instead, coming at a moment in which Iraq appears to be on the verge of chaos, that democracy is widely feared in the region because there are concerns that it will lead to the kind of breakdown of their own societies.

Autocrats do not feel, at least apparently, do not feel intimidated by the trial of Saddam Hussein. They feel, in some ways, in a stronger position, because they understand their populations find this unattractive. They're very worried about Iraq.

So this is a -- in terms of the impact, the hoped for impact by the United States, this is, in fact, in many ways, the opposite.

KING: Michael Weisskopf, a strong editorial in today's "New York Times" opposing this hanging said, as well: "Most Iraqis are now so preoccupied with shielding their families from looming civil war, they seem to have little emotion left to spend on Mr. Hussein."

What are your thoughts on that, Michael?

WEISSKOPF: Well, it'll be a good day, I'm sure, for the Shia and the Kurds, regardless of the difficulties of life in Baghdad and other cities. But the "Times" was correct in adding that perspective to this whole thing. And how does one more drop of blood here really affect the overall picture in Iraq?

What the Americans had hoped through this trial was to establish a kind of rule of law and a sense of accountability. It seems to be short-changing just about everyone here.

KING: Do you fear, Peter, some -- for want of a better word -- rampaging tomorrow, or as soon as this occurs?

ARNETT: I think the U.S. military and the Iraqi forces seem to be pretty much aware of the dangers and they seem to be ready to put the city back under lock and key, as they have in the past in major crises.

I'd like to point out the Iraqi public's reaction to Saddam Hussein overall.

In the past couple of years they've been telling me and other journalists that they're nostalgic about the security that the Baathist government provided in Iraq prior to the second war.

They're not -- they were never wanting Saddam back. But they do yearn for that security, Larry.

So I think the chaos of the last three or four years has diminished any sort of positive efficient -- diminished to some degree any positive effect that this execution would have.

KING: John, you agree?

ROBERTS: Yes, absolutely, Larry. I talked to a number of people on the streets of Baghdad when I was in Iraq -- and other towns and villages, for that matter -- when I was in Iraq in the months of October and November. And almost to a person they said, look, we don't want Saddam back, but we do long for those days when you could go out and you could walk the streets in relative safety. You could go out to a restaurant. You could go out to a market and you could buy food and other essential items.

People are just so afraid to go out on the streets right now it's really amazing that any commerce gets done in that country at all. And it is kind of remarkable when you think that in our CNN bureau, we would have fresh fruit more days than we wouldn't.

And you wonder, where is it all coming from?

So there are some people who are braving the danger out there. But they all do sort of harken back to those good old days -- if you could call them good old days -- when they could go out and do their daily business.

KING: Arwa, who is supposed to make this announcement, if it comes, let's say, in the next 20 minutes? Who's supposed to say what to whom? DAMON: Well, Larry, at this point, our understanding is that it will probably be state-owned television, Al Iraqiya, that will end up breaking the news to the nation. And that is pretty much the most closely watched TV station right now. They have been airing the news throughout the day for over 20 -- pretty much over 24 hours right now. That is what most Iraqis are monitoring.

And, of course, there is also word of mouth. The rumor mill here churns all the time. The rumors have been churning already in terms of when this execution is going to take place and what the consequences are going to be.

KING: We'll be right back with more.

And, again, if it happens during a commercial break, we'll break into that break to bring you the news.

Again, there are strong, strong sources saying it could happen within the next half hour.

Who knows?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back.

Aneesh Raman, two quick questions. When is it dawn in Baghdad and, two, is it true that if it goes past 6 a.m. then they have to delay it four days because of the holiday?

RAMAN: Well, on the first question, that's a great one. We have just, you hear some choppers going overhead in the distance prior to that heard the dawn call of prayer. So Dawn has essentially officially come to Baghdad. That means the execution could have taken place. There might be a time lag before we hear the official word.

If it doesn't happen by 6 p.m., really that's anyone's guess. We've heard from some officials that it doesn't matter, that this holy period of Eid begins at 6 a.m. for Sunni Muslims. Saddam is a Sunni.

Others have suggested it has to happen by then for them not to contradict Iraqi penal code that says they can't execute someone during the Muslim holiday. We'll have to wait and see.

But again, as far as we understand, dawn has now come here in the religious sense. And it could be that this execution has happened and there will be some time before we hear -- Larry.

KING: Timing good then.

Robin Wright, you reported in today's "Washington Post" that the president's considering new economic initiatives to go along with the possible troop increase. Like what? ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": Oh, the United States is looking at trying to develop a robust package of economic and political incentives that will complement any potential military surge.

They're looking at issues such as, when -- if new troops go in, clearing out an area and then immediately within hours, rather than days, hiring people on the ground in those neighborhoods to clean up garbage, clean up any damage, to give them work creation, to create a sense of return to normalcy but also to get them on board, to make sure that there is an alternative to the growing number of militias, who are in many ways the only new source of major employment for unemployed young men in Iraq.

They're also looking at trying to review all the dormant, closed industries. They're looking at micro loans to generate an economy. I mean, one of the great problems in Iraq today is not only the sense of security that people long for but, it's a sense of employment.

And there's greater unemployment today, as well as less electricity that the conditions of ordinary life are very tough, which is one of the reasons you see so many young men joining the militias and the armed factions in Iraq today, which has given it a greater sense of instability and also fuel the sectarian violence.

KING: Michael Weisskopf, do you -- will his -- will his execution affect at all the popularity of President Bush?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Within Iraq or within this country?

KING: Within this country.

WEISSKOPF: I would guess not.

KING: Maybe in both countries.

WEISSKOPF: I would guess not. As I said earlier, we're so far beyond the act of toppling Saddam. And there's been so much water across the bridge and so many lives lost on both sides and such chaos in front of us and such uncertainty that, looking at this, looking at this through the rearview mirror seems almost like a different era.

And I doubt very much that it will bring back popularity for the president, who at this point is working mightily to find an exit from a mess that was created in the hope of toppling this man.

KING: Peter Arnett, a few people today at lunch thought that Saddam Hussein was already dead. And in that regard, I know you interviewed him. What was likable, if anything, about him?

PETER ARNETT, FORMER CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when I interviewed him in 1991, 11 days into the first Gulf War, he was at the height of his powers, Larry. He was 53 years old. He was tall, very good looking man. Not the man you saw coming out of that spider hole 3 1/2 years ago and certainly not the man who's been on trial in the last three years.

He was very confident when I interviewed him during the height of the bombing. The bombs were exploding within a mile of where we were meeting. He was dressed impeccably in a French tailored blue suit, flowered tie.

He was very personally courteous to me. And he said, "Go ahead, ask me what you like," through his Arab interpreter, which I did.

Of course, he stonewalled during the interview. He propagandized, but I think he made the pointing during that interview. He was alive and well, you know, he wasn't ready to make any concessions in the war at that point. And he was dressed for the part. He was diplomatic and, as I said courteous at that point.

KING: John Roberts -- a lot, I don't know how to define a lot -- are a lot of people in Iraq going to miss him?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: I think that there are some hard core Ba'athists who will probably miss him. I don't think many of the Shiites or any of the Kurds are going to miss him. Don't forget, Larry, that in the last 3 1/2 years, Saddam has become sort of a bit player in what's going on in Iraq right now, a figure head, not very much of a figure head at that.

He still does serve some purpose for Ba'athists, in fueling their dreams of insurgency and toppling the Shia-led government. But really not too much of a practical influence there on the ground.

Just getting back to something that Robin was saying. If this administration is looking at make work projects, I don't know where they're going to get the money.

Because I ran with a lot of U.S. military people through these neighborhoods, and they said, "We don't have the funds to be able to compete with these militias who are paying people anywhere between $500 and $5,000 to plant these IEDs or even to videotape the results of those explosions," Larry.

So unless there's a massive appropriation of money for the next year I don't know how they're going to pay these Iraqis to stay out of these militias and to try to give the economy a kick start.

KING: Robin Wright, are there many Ba'athists?

WRIGHT: Are there many Ba'athists? Yes, there are strong Ba'athist support within -- among the Sunni community still, among the insurgents.

But I think John's right. This is a man who has become not just a bit player but you know, there had been lots of predictions that there would be violence when the trial began, along the way. And, in fact, there hasn't been.

And I think that the insurgency has very much a life of its own. It's about Sunni survival, and Saddam Hussein is not necessarily the symbol of that anymore.

I do want to say one other thing about Saddam Hussein, and that is this is a guy who has miscalculated throughout his career. He invaded Iran, hoping to stem the power of a Shiite theocracy next door. And today you see Iraq, ironically with Iran, the strongest foreign influence in the country, with the Shiite-dominated government heavily under its way or closely allied to it.

This is a man who invaded Kuwait and brought on not just one of the largest international coalitions against him but also saw for the first time Arabs fighting against Arabs. It was a turning point in the Middle East. And he has miscalculated throughout his career, and this is -- this is what has led to his demise today.

KING: We'll be back with more. And again, if word comes to us of the execution, we'll bring it to you immediately. And if it means breaking into a commercial break, we'll do that. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our panel remains. Joining us from London is Tony Benn, former Labour M.P. and cabinet member, a leading figure in the British opposition to the Iraq war. He traveled to Baghdad and met and interviewed Saddam Hussein in February of 2003.

He has also met with Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Gulf War. He helped to secure the release of Britons being used as human shields after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Tony, you are opposed to this execution, is that true?

TONY BENN, FORMER LABOUR M.P.: Well, I'm against the death penalty. But 665,000 Iraqis have died since the United States and Britain invaded Iraq. One more death will probably be presented as a triumph for democracy.

But the real verdict on Iraq came in the midterm elections. The American voters realized, like Vietnam, it was an unwinnable war. And I think that is the real background.

Of course, Saddam was a close ally of the United States. When I met him in 1990, just before Kuwait, he said, "I feel utterly betrayed by the United States. They armed me. They sent me into Iraq -- Iran" and so on.

So there's a history to it that hasn't come out so far in the discussion.

KING: You are not saying, Tony, that he is not a tyrant, are you?

BENN: Oh no. After Pinochet in Chile was put there by the CIA killed a lot of his opponents. But the Americans were told he was linked to 9/11. He was not. Americans were told and so we had weapons of mass destruction. He didn't. I mean, I think most people in the world know why the invasion occurred. The president wanted the oil. And the consequences of this execution may make the present crisis worse, but it certainly won't solve it.

KING: What should his punishment be?

BENN: What will his what?

KING: What should his punishment be?

BENN: Well, I mean, giving my personal opinion. I remember the Nuremburg trials after the war, and I was in favor. But I think pinning it all on one person and hanging them is not as good as Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Tutu, who talks about truth and reconciliation.

If in South Africa, Nelson Mandela had hanged all the white leaders of the Apartheid regime, there would have been endless vengeance and bitterness and killing. He didn't. He said bring out the truth and make that the basis. And I think that is a better way of doing it than executing people. That's my conviction now.

KING: Very strongly held. Thank you, Tony Benn, former Labour M.P. and cabinet member.

Michael Weisskopf, does he have a point?

WEISSKOPF: He has a point about the reconciliation. There is a cycle of violence really that began with Saddam and his inter clique, his sons, for instance.

I should say that Saddam was an equal opportunity despot. There were many Sunnis who felt that -- that bitter whip, as well.

I remember, soon after the American occupation began, standing outside of Abu Ghraib prison before the Americans used it to interrogate prisoners and hold prisoners. There was a huge mural of Saddam, as there were in front of many public institutions. And a man standing for 45 minutes with an AK-47, chipping away at it, almost tile by tile, until it was obliterated.

And I remember approaching him afterwards. And he said he was from a Sunni family and that Saddam's -- one of Saddam's kids had killed a woman -- a member of that family. And the bitterness he felt.

And so I -- there is such a tradition of bloodiness and of violence in that community. Somewhere it has to be stopped.

KING: Peter Arnett, does Tony Benn have a point that we supported him? Who betrayed who? Did he betray us, or we betray him?

ARNETT: I think history will have a lot of fun with the relationship between Saddam Hussein and the United States, Larry. And certainly in the '80s, the U.S. was not -- was not -- did not see Saddam's invasion of Iran as being unwelcome, because the Ayatollah Khomeini at the time, of course, had taken the embassy hostages. A very belligerent attitude to the United States.

And Donald Rumsfeld in a civilian role and others did visit Saddam. Just a few months before Saddam invaded Kuwait there was a delegations of U.S. senators visited him and gave him support.

One other point, Larry. The history should also be interested in the fact that in the '90s I'm pretty much convinced that Saddam was approaching senility. He had handed overall all the rains of power to both his sons, primarily to his younger son, to his younger son, Qusay.

And by 2001 and '02 the sons were scrapping for power, trying to divide the spoils, while Saddam was becoming increasingly indifferent to what was going on around him.

And I think that is the reason that the war succeeded, the initial invasion succeeded so quickly, because that was not an organized defense of Iraq. And basically it was over very quickly because of the inability of the government.

KING: We'll -- we'll be taking a break, checking back in with our correspondents in Baghdad.

First, let's check in with Anderson Cooper, who will host "AC 360" at the top of the hour. I don't think we've ever had a day like this, have we, Anderson, waiting for someone to die?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's been a remarkable day, a day of confusion. We have reporters, Larry, as you just said, all around the globe, following this very closely. The countdown continues.

All eyes tonight clearly on Iraq and Saddam's pending execution. As Larry's pointed out, his hanging is expected within the hour. We've got reporters standing by.

We'll also be taking a look at whether Saddam might be more dangerous dead than alive. And a lot at his daughters who now live in Amman, Jordan. And despite the fact that their dad is said to have ordered the killings of their own husbands, they still defend him to this day.

We'll also focus not just on this killer but on those he killed, the victims of Saddam Hussein. Tonight we'll remember them, as well.

Larry, we expect it to be a very busy two hours. We'll see you at the top of the hour.

KING: You are right. That's "AC 360" at 10 Eastern, 7 Pacific. We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Arwa Damon, I know it's 27 degrees Saturday morning in Baghdad. Anything to report? Any news, any inkling, any strong rumor?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's still awaiting Larry, in all honesty. Every single time we go to commercial break, the few people that are out here coming up to me and asking if I have heard anything if, in fact, this execution has taken place.

Iraq pretty much has stayed awake all night waiting for news, waiting for any of the first images that we are hearing might be coming out once this execution does take place.

KING: Thank you, dear.

Dr. Katrin Michael joins us in Washington. She joined the Kurdish-based -- the Kurdish-based Iraqi resistance movement in 1982. Survived a chemical attack unleashed against her Kurdish village in June of '87 and testified against Saddam Hussein earlier this year at the Iraqi high tribunal.

How do you feel about his pending execution, Doctor?

DR. KATRIN MICHAEL, TESTIFIED AGAINST SADDAM: I tell you truth, for me, mean nothing. Saddam being executed, not executed, mean nothing. The most important, Saddam has been a -- gone as a regime, as ideology from Iraq. This is most important.

So but if I -- I would say my personal opinion as activist, human rights activist, as ambassador of peace, I would say death penalty shouldn't be -- exist.

But if I put it in a balance, every day, hundreds of Iraqi people is killing because of Saddam, they think that maybe they can return Saddam back to the power, no, I would say let Saddam go and sacrifice and save Iraqis, the life of Iraqi -- of millions of Iraqi people.

KING: Dr. Michael, Arab television is now reporting that the final arrangements have been made. That means this execution is -- we've been using the word all day. This is imminent -- slash imminent -- dash imminent.

Was it hard to testify, Dr. Michael?

MICHAEL: I was very happy the day that I sit in a front of him, and my chair was higher than his chair. And I was very, very happy to sit in the front of him and he was like a chicken in front of me.

Twice the judge asked him, "Do you have a question to her?"

He said, "No, I don't." That mean he did -- he couldn't even argue with me. He couldn't even look at me. And I didn't see that his eyes crossed my eyes absolutely.

KING: Thank you, Dr. Michael. We appreciate you joining us.

Let's go back to Baghdad. Aneesh, you have something to report?

KING: Yes, Larry, you were just saying Al Arabiya reporting final preparations under way. Also we understand they're reporting perhaps his execution will happen outside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

We had talked to a Shia member of parliament who seen the gallows within the Green Zone there. A cleric, a judge as well as a doctor were on call for the past few hours waiting for this execution to happen.

Iraqi state television, though, earlier today suggested two sites were being prepared, perhaps for security reasons. It seems according to this report that the execution that they're saying final preparations for a complete is happening perhaps outside of the Green Zone -- Larry.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and get final comments from all of our panel. Again, if this happens while we're on the air, we'll bring you right to you, even if it's during a commercial break. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Again, Arab TV reporting that final preparations have been made for the execution of Saddam Hussein.

Some closing thoughts, quickly, John Roberts?

ROBERTS: It will be interesting, Larry, to see just what the result of this will be in Iraq. If the sentencing phase of his trial was any indication, it will be a brief uptick in violence but probably one that won't last too long.

As we said earlier, Saddam Hussein's influence among Iraqis has diminished significantly in the last 3 1/2 years. And it may be that we'll only see a brief spike for a few days and then back to the normal grind of violence that Baghdad is subject to every day.

KING: Robin Wright?

WRIGHT: Extraordinary thing today -- about today is that this could have been avoided if Saddam Hussein had not pulled one of the great bluffs of all time and said that he -- and refused to comply with the United Nations on weapons of mass destruction.

He could have avoided this fate. He could have avoided the fate of his nation was transpired, the tens of thousands of deaths, if he had merely complied with those U.N. resolutions.

KING: Well put. Michael Weisskopf?

WEISSKOPF: Accountability, Larry. And in a sense, it's short -- really a shortcut here, as Dr. Michael said. The tremendous gratification she had for her day in court will not be available to many, many other Iraqis representing other -- other blocs in that society.

KING: Peter Arnett? ARNETT: There will be echoes around Arab world, Larry. Saddam Hussein is the first Arab leader, certainly first modern Arab leader to undergo trial and execution. And there must be some Arab leaders who are sitting uneasily on their thrones -- Larry.

KING: Aneesh Raman, is it daylight now?

RAMAN: It's just getting there, Larry.

We can also just add to this that Arab television reporting Saddam Hussein has arrived at the execution site. A Shia-backed channel in Iraq is saying the execution will be carried out within minutes. Suggestions have been all day this would happen by 10 p.m. Eastern.

We do know, though, a short time ago the Sunni holiday of Eid began. We heard the morning prayers. So it seems the execution did not happen before that. That might force some complications on the ground, explaining perhaps by the Iraqi government.

But again, according to Arab -- Arab language television, Saddam Hussein has arrived at the execution site. A Shia-backed channel in Iraq saying it will happen within minutes -- Larry.

KING: And Arwa by my clock, that's two minutes away. What are you hearing?

DAMON: Well, Larry, we are out on the streets of Baghdad. Pretty much the scene that you're seeing right here is probably what's playing out in almost every single home across Iraq: Iraqis glued to either radios or TV sets, they too, awaiting, expecting this execution to happen at any minute, really signaling an end of an era in Iraqi history.

KING: Aneesh, is there something ghoulish about this?

RAMAN: Well, as you mentioned, all of us waiting for this execution to take place. Certainly, as observers, there's an element of that. But keep in mind, the emotions run extremely high among Iraqi people and politicians alike.

Shia politicians repeatedly during the trial came out to me and said, "You in the media are giving Saddam this platform to speak to the world." You could tell that they cringed at the mere sight of Saddam speaking in that trial. This execution phase is explicitly political. All the legal recourses have ended, and that is why you've gotten a sense from early on throughout the year that these Iraqi politicians wanted swift justice.

Iraq's prime minister, at the sentencing on November 5, said this execution would happen by the end of the year. That was before the appellate process had even begun, Larry.

KING: Thank you for outstanding work you've done all day, you and Arwa. And thanks to our panel for joining us and our other guests who joined us, as well. Again, final preparations. You've heard the word imminent today. It is really imminent now. And I'm sure it's going to happen within the next couple of minutes.

Tomorrow night, we're going to have a very special broadcast of "LARRY KING LIVE": Gerald Ford remembered.

And on New Year's night, a very special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" with Jack Hanna, the animals, and two kids named Chance and Cannon that you might find interesting.

Right now, let's go to New York, Anderson Cooper, "AC 360" and it's right around the corner, Anderson. It's yours.

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