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THIS WEEK AT WAR

The Execution of Saddam Hussein

Aired December 29, 2006 - 20:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And it looks like we're getting down to the short strokes here.
Tonight: On the eve of a new year, we're going to take an in- depth look at the fast-breaking events that could change the course of the war in Iraq.

This is a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR...

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): And a tyrant and a menace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Goodbye, Saddam.

ROBERTS: ... toppled by invasion and reviled by those he once ruled, pulled ragged and filthy from a spider hole, convicted of mass murder.

And now, the execution of Saddam Hussein, will it trigger a new wave of violence?

A tragic milestone: 3,000 Americans lost in battle. We will take a hard look at how this will affect the tactics and the politics of the Iraq war.

I just had a meeting with my national security team.

ROBERTS: The president is working on a new plan. Is it a change of course, or just more of the same? And will it mean the troops can start heading home?

This is a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR, "The Execution of Saddam Hussein."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: And good evening, and thanks for joining us. We would also like to welcome our international viewers to this special live edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR watching on CNN International.

For decades, Saddam Hussein was the narcissistic, brutal dictator who ruled Iraq with a iron fist -- the palaces and power now about to be replaced by a simple hangman's rope.

Will Saddam's death trigger a new convulsion of violence? Or had he become irrelevant, as sectarian factions wage their bloody struggle for power?

This is all moving very quickly and in a number of different directions, as well.

For the very latest, we are going to go to Baghdad and Middle East correspondent Aneesh Raman -- also, on the streets of Baghdad for us tonight, correspondent Arwa Damon, in our New York bureau, Feisal Istrabadi. He is Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations. And on the phone with us from Rome, one of Saddam's attorneys, Giovanni Di Stefano.

Aneesh Raman, let's start with you. What's the very latest for us?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, CNN has been told to expect the execution of Saddam Hussein within the next few hours. By dawn Saturday were the words of an appellate judge from the Iraqi High Tribunal.

We spoke to him a short time ago. He still has not gotten the call to move to where this execution will take place. We understand, within the heavily fortified Green Zone, he expects to be a witness there.

The two questions now: What, if any, images will emerge of this execution? We have heard from this court official there will be no live coverage of Saddam Hussein's hanging. But we have heard from other officials, some evidence will emerge to debunk any rumors that could emerge on the streets that this execution did not happen.

The other question: Whose custody is Saddam currently in, U.S. forces or Iraqi troops? That ultimate hangover from U.S. to Iraqi officials is a final step before this execution can take place. It was a source of great confusion during the day.

But a court official has told CNN that handover can happen almost immediately prior to the execution taking place. So, as we speak now, Saddam could still be in U.S. custody. But, again, CNN has been told to expect the execution of Saddam Hussein within the coming hours -- John.

ROBERTS: On the phone with us, as we mentioned, is Giovanni Di Stefano. He is one of Saddam's attorneys.

Mr. Di Stefano, you have been hearing the news all day. Do you have any confirmation that this execution may take place before 6:00 a.m., Baghdad time?

GIOVANNI DI STEFANO, ATTORNEY FOR SADDAM HUSSEIN: Well, I have no confirmation. The only news that I'm waiting for is from my colleague in Washington, who is in fact in front of the district judge, I think even as we speak now, late in the day, to decide whether or not our application for a temporary restraining order that was actually filed yesterday has actually been rejected, or it's been accepted. If there is a temporary restraining order, that will be the end of the matter, and Saddam Hussein will remain in the custody of the United States military. And there will be no execution.

ROBERTS: Right.

But, Mr. Di Stefano, even if a U.S. court were to grant an injunction, what's to say that the Iraqi court system would recognize it?

DI STEFANO: Well, it's Americans -- you see, our application is not for a stay of execution, because that has no jurisdiction, as you quite rightly say.

Our application is to preclude the United States of America's military from handing over Saddam Hussein for the purposes of an execution. It's a very finely worded document. Now, if that's granted, he will not be handed over. And, obviously, he can't be executed.

If that is (AUDIO GAP) then we will have to consider a question of an appeal. But I do not believe that the United States of America will -- will breach any court order from the United States district court judge.

ROBERTS: OK.

Feisal Istrabadi, you have been in contact with officials back in Iraq. What are you hearing?

FEISAL AL-ISTRABADI, DEPUTY IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Well, it's been some hours since I have been in contact. I mean, it's, what, about 4:00 in the morning in Iraq now. So, it's been some number of hours. And I think...

ROBERTS: But does this -- this idea, though, of executing him before dawn, before the start of Eid-Al-Adha, sound correct to you?

ISTRABADI: That -- I mean, it's -- it's possible. Yes, it does make sense to me, I mean, that there's a certain desire to get this over with, notwithstanding this holiday that's coming up.

But I -- I think that we are very clearly in the end stages. Whether it's a matter of hours or more or less, we're very clearly at the end stages of this -- of this situation.

ROBERTS: Arwa Damon, you spent the day on Baghdad streets. What -- what's the mood of the streets now? I know it's very early in the morning, but I have been to the Middle East many, many times. And people don't necessarily go with the regular sleep-wake cycles. What are people there telling you?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you just mentioned, people here tonight in the capital, Baghdad, and presumably across all of Iraq, have not gone into regular sleep cycle at all. What we are hearing from the Iraqis that we have spoken to is that everyone who they know is wide awake and awaiting the outcome, waiting for some word on when this execution is going to take place. They have been hearing rumors about it all day.

And, as the story has gained momentum, we have seen an increase in both anxiety and in anticipation on the streets of Baghdad, anxiety because of any potential outcome of violence following the execution of Saddam Hussein and his two co-defendants, anticipation on the part of those Iraqis who suffered the most under his regime, who are viewing this, finally, as the end of an era of a brutal dictatorship, hoping to be able to really put all of this behind them and eventually move forward.

But, really, John, across the board, no one here truly believes that the death of Saddam Hussein is really going to be impacting the violence that they have been living with on a near daily basis.

ROBERTS: Aneesh Raman, we hear that Saddam Hussein is going to be presented with a red card. A lot of people might think that's a soccer analogy, but -- but it holds a deep tradition in Iraqi history, particularly related to Saddam Hussein.

RAMAN: Yes, John, this is of high emotional and historical significance.

Saddam Hussein, under his regime, right before people were executed, they were handed a red card, condemning them to death. We understand that waiting for Saddam at the gallows will be a red card, this one signed by the current minister of justice, condemning Saddam Hussein himself to death.

There is a lot of emotion, not just among the people that Arwa was talking about, but among the politicians as well. These are men that, as well, suffered under Saddam Hussein. Part of what we have seen, a desire for swift justice, is fueled by that. Iraq's prime minister said he expected Saddam Hussein to be executed by the end of the year.

And those comments came before the appellate process had even finished. So, among the politicians, you get a sense that this is for them, as it is for all Iraqis, a very emotional moment, coming to grips with a brutal past -- John.

ROBERTS: Giovanni Di Stefano, what -- what is your gut telling you tonight? Will he be executed in the next few hours?

DI STEFANO: Well, the United States may have been in violation of international law, but they certainly will not violate their own laws.

And, if we are able to succeed with the temporary restraining order, the United States of America will certainly not violate that order. The consequences are very, very grave for those who violate a court order. It's a contempt of court, has a number of consequences. And we will have saved, effectively, his life for a period of time. ROBERTS: All right.

Giovanni Di Stefano, on the telephone with us, thanks very much, as well, Aneesh Raman in Baghdad, Arwa Damon on the streets of Baghdad, and, as well, Feisal Istrabadi, the deputy Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations.

Plenty of former dictators and war criminals have been put to death without much effect. Will the execution of Saddam Hussein, though, be different? What impact might it have in Iraq and the entire region, for that matter?

When we come back, we will get the Middle East perspective.

This is a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR: "The Execution of Saddam Hussein."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR: "The Execution of Saddam Hussein."

We're going to look at the ripple effect of this event across the Middle East in a moment.

But, first, we go to Atlanta for a quick update of the latest news headlines.

Here's Carol Lin -- Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I'm going to start with your lead story.

By all accounts, Saddam Hussein's hanging is likely to happen very soon. An Iraqi appeals court judge tells CNN the ousted leader will be executed by dawn, Iraqi time, before 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. That judge is calling a last-ditch appeal by Hussein's lawyers here in a U.S. federal court rubbish. They're seeking a temporary restraining order to block the execution.

Three more U.S. troops were killed in Iraq today, bringing the total death toll since the start of the war to 2,995. One hundred and six service members have died this December alone. That equals October for the highest number of military deaths in any month this year.

Tonight, the body of former President Gerald Ford is lying in his home church in Palm Desert, California -- the public paying respects after a family prayer service earlier. Today marked the start of a six-day mourning period for the 38th president. His body will be flown to the nation's capital tomorrow to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Just hours ago, AT&T cleared a major hurdle in its proposed buyout of BellSouth. The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved the $86 billion deal. This comes a day after AT&T offered a package of concessions for consumers and competitors. The deal is going to be the largest in telecommunications merger history, at least right here in the United States.

Now back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 29, 1990)

BERNARD SHAW, CNN: President Saddam, we are all mortal beings. When you die, how do you want to be remembered?

SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI PRESIDENT (through translator): My overriding preoccupation is how I'm going to face God. And the true believer is always dreaming that God almighty is satisfied with him.

And it is important to me that good people on this land have -- will have understood me in the right way, in as sufficiently right a manner as is possible.

And I'm confident. Indeed, I believe that the people, the great people of Iraq and the people of the glorious Arab nations will remember us with -- favorably, will remember us favorably, with good memories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Saddam Hussein speaking with former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw 16 years ago.

Will Saddam Hussein be remembered favorably, as he would like? Or will he be an object lesson in the excess of power? And what effect will his execution have in Iraq and the greater Middle East, for that matter?

Joining me now are Octavia Nasr -- she's CNN senior editor for Arab affairs in Atlanta -- from Salt Lake City, Utah, Vali Nasr -- no relation -- fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and with me here in Washington, Hisham Melham. He is the Washington bureau chief of "An-Nahar" newspaper out of Lebanon. He's also the host of a weekly program on Al-Arabiya television.

Vali Nasr, let's start with you.

What do you think the impact of Saddam Hussein's execution is going to be there in Iraq? Will it have a calming effect, because the dictator is finally gone? Or could it actually exacerbate sectarian tensions?

VALI NASR, ADJUNCT SENIOR FELLOW FOR MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, in the short run, it can actually exacerbate tensions. There have been threats, particularly by some insurgents' groups, that they're going to retaliate.

But, in the larger scheme of things, it doesn't have much of an impact. It's not going to change the course on which Iraq has now been set. All the problems that Iraq faces, reconstruction, violence, social service provision , none of these are going to be solved by the execution of Saddam Hussein.

ROBERTS: Hisham Melham, let me read to you Saddam Hussein's own words from this letter that was made public on Wednesday.

He says -- quote -- "I call on you not to hate, because hate does not leave space for a person to be fair, and it makes you blind, and closes all doors of thinking. I also call on you not to hate the peoples of the other countries that attacked us and differentiate between the decision-makers and the people."

So, he's saying, blame the U.S. administration; don't blame the American people.

But, inside Iraq, and -- and across the Middle East, are people likely to heed his words?

HISHAM MELHAM, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "AN-NAHAR": No, absolutely not.

What is likely to happen is a spike in violence. That spike in violence could last for a few days. It could be containable. But what is also there, a potential for an orgy of violence, especially if the initial Sunni reaction targets a major Shia shrine, as we have seen in Samarra in February of this year, which was a major milestone in Iraq's descent to hell.

In that case, the execution of Saddam Hussein would be another milestone. And, in that sense, you will probably have a deeper and -- and -- and a much worse civil war taking place in Iraq.

ROBERTS: Yes, I was going to say, if that's the case, what's to stop the descent into all-out civil war? Anything?

MELHAM: No, not really. That's why I'm concerned that executing Saddam Hussein at this time, a few days before President George Bush is to announce his new plan for Iraq, whatever plan he's going to come up with is going to be seen in the context of the ripple effects of that -- ramifications of that violence that is going to take place for certain after the execution of Saddam Hussein.

And I think, you know, many people are wondering why Saddam is not being put on trial for his real crime against humanity...

ROBERTS: Right.

MELHAM: ... against the Kurds and against the Iranians and the Kuwaitis.

ROBERTS: Pick up on that point in a moment.

But, Octavia Nasr, one of the things you do down there in Atlanta is, you keep close tabs on what the Middle East media is saying. What's been the word in the Arab street there about this pending execution and the potential ramifications of it?

O. NASR: Well, it doesn't seem like too many tears are being shed over the execution of Saddam Hussein, which is -- now it seems imminent.

But all eyes are really on the Iraqi government and how it's going to handle the situation. So far, it hasn't been a very successful government, if you look at how Arab media are treating it and how the Arab street is talking about the Iraqi government, especially in the issue of Saddam Hussein, how his trial was handled.

There's a lot of criticism, saying that this trial was not necessarily fair, calling it a personal vendetta. And, as Hisham rightly said, people wanted to see Saddam face all the other charges. They wanted to see him face charges of alleged crimes against the Kurds, against the Sunnis.

So, there is a little bit of disappointment over the fact that he's going to be executed after that one trial, where he faced charges of crimes he committed against the Shiites.

ROBERTS: Vali Nasr, what does this possibly mean for -- for this plan of reconciliation that the Iraqi government is trying to engage in? Baathists are out there, saying -- some Baathists are out there, at least, saying that that program has been irretrievably damaged.

V. NASR: I think it has, partly because we would like to separate al Qaeda element of the insurgency from the Baathists and the nationalists, and probably bring those back in.

Even the Iraqi prime minister offered certain amnesty to some lower-level Baathist officers, inviting them to come in. Now, the Baathists have said that they don't want to see Saddam Hussein executed. And if this Iraqi government goes ahead with the execution, then it makes it much more difficult to bring them together.

There is no shared vision of the future. There is also clearly no shared vision of the past. And it's -- will -- will remove any common ground for discussion in the near term, which is the one that really matters. In the long term, maybe everybody will forget about Saddam.

But, in the next month or so, with everything riding on the new U.S. strategy on reconciliation, the execution at this point in time, right on the beginning of the hajj ceremonies is -- is not a good omen for bringing both sides together for a workable political solution.

ROBERTS: Hisham, let me come back to the point that you were making and then Octavia picked up on, this idea of Saddam Hussein being executed before he faces judgment in the Anfal against the Kurds, against other cases that are pending about executing Sunnis. What does that mean for the Kurdish population in Iraq, the Sunni population in Iraq?

MELHAM: I don't think the Kurds are happy. The Kurds would like the whole world to see what happened to them when Saddam was in charge of Iraq.

Al-Anfal campaign had the genocidal character, John, in which at least 100,000 -- some people say 200,000 -- perished in less than two years.

ROBERTS: Yes, he's being executed for the deaths of about 150 people...

MELHAM: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: ... where the deaths of tens of thousands are still outstanding.

MELHAM: Exactly.

Al-Dujail is bad enough, but some Sunnis would see Al-Dujail as a vindictiveness on the part of a Shia-dominated government for the Shia victims of Dujail. Saddam was an equal opportunity killer, in the sense that he killed Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds, Shia. And then he waged a war against the civilian population of Iran. And then he took over Kuwait.

So, he committed war crimes against the Iranians and the Kuwaitis, crimes against humanities, especially in the al-Anfal against -- those victims -- against the Kurds. Those victims deserve a transparent, real tribe for Saddam to create the precedent that all the despots in the region will learn a few lessons from.

ROBERTS: Octavia Nasr, we -- we all saw the pictures of the spectacular downfall of Saddam Hussein, from the opulent palaces, to the spider hole in the desert of Iraq, to him being poked and prodded by -- by U.S. military doctors, as they were taking DNA samples of him.

We -- we just -- we recall that this was a dictator who had just a -- a stunning fall from grace. How do you think, if -- if you could ever attribute grace to him -- how do you think that he is going to be remembered?

O. NASR: You know, it's very interesting.

One -- one question today was raised a lot on Arab media. And that is, why is the silence from other Arab nations and Arab leaders? And I think this is an indication of how he will be remembered. It seems like Saddam Hussein is going to be forgotten, or he's forgotten already.

So, this man, who, as you started this segment with him talking about his legacy and how he would like to be remembered, that is going to be a big question mark, if he will ever be remembered as the good man that he thought he was.

It's very interesting. These are the images that people will remember. And, you know, those people who still support Saddam Hussein and who call this trial and this execution a personal vendetta, they're using these same images to see -- to say the Iraqi government is doing just that, basically letting him go in an insult and not in glory. (CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: Of course, the lingering image of Saddam Hussein, should that video be released, could be him walking to the gallows.

Octavia Nasr in Atlanta, Vali Nasr in Salt Lake City, Hisham Melham, as always, good to see you again, my friend. Thank you.

As Saddam Hussein prepares to meet his maker, President Bush is making new plans, yet another attempt to end the violence in Iraq. Will the new strategy have any more impact than the last one did? It may be the president's last chance -- next, on our special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR: "The Execution of Saddam Hussein."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Got more consultation to do, until I talk to the country about the plan. Obviously, we will continue to work with the Iraqi government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: President Bush on Thursday in Crawford, Texas, after meeting with his national security team.

Much of this holiday has been spent reviewing options in Iraq, and President Bush is expect to reveal his plans in a speech early in the new year. Will these plans mean more or fewer troops in combat? And, in the end, is there anything the U.S. can really do to win in Iraq?

Joining me here in Washington is retired Brigadier General and CNN analyst James "Spider" Marks. White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has graciously hung around for us tonight. And Barbara Starr is at her post at the Pentagon.

Of course, we're following the news here that Saddam Hussein, we understand, could be executed some time in the next hour-and-a-half.

But past that, Suzanne Malveaux, we have to look at this. What's the president going to come up with for Iraq? And the big question is, what's taking him so long?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we -- we saw the president this week, obviously, had a very important meeting with his national security team. There are a couple of things that are happening here.

He talked about consultations with the Iraqi government. With the execution of Saddam Hussein, there is much that is still up for grabs here. There's a lot of uncertainty. So, I'm sure that is something that they want to see get behind them.

He also, of course, talked about consultations with Congress. What you're going to see is the change in power with the Congress, the Democrats taking over. These are key, key events that have to happen and will happen very shortly.

ROBERTS: So, what are we looking at for a target date?

MALVEAUX: Well, we're seeing anywhere from perhaps the first, spill into the second week of January -- a lot of consultations, as you know, with his new defense secretary, with Cheney, with Secretary Rice, a plan -- obviously, serious consideration at looking at a possible increase of troops, perhaps a small number, 20,000 or so.

But those are talks that continue. There's a sense of a fear that, if he comes out too soon here, that he may not put forward something that's robust enough, and then he's going to have to pull back and say, once again, this is a plan that didn't work.

ROBERTS: So, Barbara Starr, what -- what are we talking about, in terms of plan, other than above -- over and above what Suzanne mentioned, about 20,000, 30,000 troops, perhaps, in -- in a temporary surge?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, the military doesn't wait around for the president to ask them what they think.

They are already planning out all the options, so, when he makes a decision, they will be able to proceed quickly. There is, in fact, a proposed course of action, the military says, 20,000 troop increase. Some Marines on the ground would stay longer than anticipated. Some Army units would go in more quickly.

But what military commanders continue to say, more troops on the ground won't solve the problem in Iraq, that the violence will continue. More troops may only mean more targets, unless there is an equal commitment on the political and the economic front. That means political progress from the Iraqis. And, possibly, we will see a package of economic incentives putting young Iraqi men to work, and incentives to reopen Iraqi businesses and industries.

ROBERTS: General Marks, you have been saying the same thing, that a surge -- that a surge in troops is not the answer in Iraq, may not have much of an effect.

Yet, we hear General Casey sort of backtracking a little bit off of his original position now, saying, well, I could consider it. I need to know the details of the plan.

Is that administration pressure on Casey?

BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You know, I don't know. I can't speak to that.

ROBERTS: What does it look like?

MARKS: Well, the thing that concerns me is that what we talk about is, we talk about a military strategy. And when we talk about the administration having a new strategy, there's always the face of the soldier or the Marine on the ground engaged.

This isn't a military strategy. The strategy, as Suzanne indicated, includes a whole bunch of endeavors and actions that have to take place that underpin this grand strategy. And the military is a piece of that.

ROBERTS: If you were in charge, what would you do?

MARKS: I would take forces that are engaged in country right now -- and thanks for asking me the question -- I would take forces that are engaged right now that are in a position where we can afford to take risks. And I would get...

ROBERTS: Where is that?

MARKS: That would be in places a little bit further north, in the vicinity of Mosul, maybe even out in the vicinity of Al-Anbar, as anathema as that may sound.

But there are places out there where we can afford to bring forces back into Baghdad, because that -- where Baghdad sits today, it's awfully precarious. And you do -- you can use more forces there to hold that city, try to hold that city in place.

And it's not just U.S. forces. It's also the Iraqi forces.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux, the military component of this is one thing -- the political component, though, equally as important.

What's the White House doing on the political side of things to try to get that government to a point where it can be strong enough to take control of its own country?

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly, there have been a lot of questions about Maliki and whether or not he can even handle this job. So, that's one thing there, reaching out to Arab allies, Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians, to make sure that they're all supporting the Maliki government.

As we know, the president has also reached out to the vice president, Shiite, as well as Sunni, and Kurds, all of them, to try to back Maliki's government here to make it stronger.

But what Barbara said really is important. And that is not just military, but, yes, they are considering those economic components and that political boost that this administration, Iraqi government, needs to make this all happen, to make this work, because, as you know, President Bush's legacy is on the line.

ROBERTS: Yes. And, by the way, we're just hearing information that the U.S. appeals court, according to the Associated Press, has denied that temporary injunction against the Saddam Hussein execution.

We were talking with Giovanni Di Stefano -- and you were earlier, Suzanne -- who is one of the attorneys for Saddam Hussein, who believed that the injunction would be granted, and, therefore,, the execution would be delayed. But the U.S. district court, according to the Associated Press, has rejected, turned down that appeal for a temporary injunction.

Barbara Starr, picking up on the military side of this for us, is this a last chance for the Pentagon? If this doesn't work, is there anything else they can do?

STARR: Well, you know, it's very interesting, John.

At least two senior commanders in very separate locations said this week they think there is one important step. And that is that the administration, the political side of Washington, needs to either make a commitment to this war or get out. They do believe, at this point, that they really have to decide they want to prosecute the war and go forward or find a way to get out.

The military believes, right now, that they are still in the world of half-measures. And that's not what they want.

ROBERTS: General Marks, finish this up for us real quick. Is this going to work, or is it not going to work?

MARKS: I don't know that this alone is going to work, absolutely correct.

As has been mentioned, there are a lot of things that have to take place. It's not just a military solution. And, frankly, 20,000 soldiers, 20,000 -- you know, an increase of 20,000 troops on the ground, they will be sucked up into that morass. It could be even more.

ROBERTS: All right.

General Marks, Suzanne, and Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

Every soldier's death is a tragedy for friends and family. But, as the number of troops killed in Iraq approaches 3,000 now, this milestone brings public attention back to a crucial question: What price is the U.S. willing to pay in Iraq? More on that coming up, but, when we come back, the latest from Baghdad.

This is a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR: "The Execution of Saddam Hussein."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Just a quick clarification here, before we go any further: The U.S. district court of appeals apparently has turned down a request for a temporary injunction against the execution of Awad Hamed al-Bandar, who was the former chief judge of Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime. The temporary injunction, the appeal for a temporary injunction on behalf of Saddam Hussein, is still pending before that court.

Welcome back to a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR: "The Execution of Saddam Hussein." The last execution by hanging in the United States was back in 1996. But it is still legal in at least two states. And, certainly, it's not forgotten.

CNN's Randi Kaye looked into what we can surmise about Saddam Hussein's final moments, when they happen. And we should warn you that some of the images in the story are very disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This what is Iraq's government calls the death chamber. Soon, Saddam Hussein will be here to meet the same fate as these men. This is what his final moments will look like. But we wanted to know what the process was like.

(on camera): Will Saddam suffer in death?

DR. LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, FORENSIC SCIENTIST, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: He certainly will suffer up to the point of hanging. Whether he will suffer during the hanging itself is a question that nobody knows the answer to. My suspicion is that there is no consciousness when a person is hung.

KAYE: We have our hanging victim right here. Once the noose tightens, what is the very first thing?

KOBILINSKY: Well, two of the cervical vertebrae will break. And the spinal cord will become severed. The body will go into immediate paralysis.

KAYE (voice-over): Forensic scientist Larry Kobilinsky says paralysis is what protects a person being hanged from feeling pain. Also, the trauma from the severing of the spinal cord makes the brain go haywire, Kobilinsky says, so the body doesn't even recognize pain.

KOBILINSKY: When you have this chaotic flow of energy in the brain, I don't see how there can be a consciousness.

KAYE: Hanging has been used for centuries, dating back 2,500 years to the Persian Empire. Today, it is still used in many Middle Eastern countries. In the United States, New Hampshire and the state of Washington still allow prisoners to be hanged.

WESTLEY DODD, CONVICTED MURDERER: Hanging, that's the way I am going to go. I am going to hang.

KAYE: Serial child killer Westley Dodd was executed by hanging in Washington back in 1993. He told CNN he wanted to hang because that's how he killed one of his victims. The last hanging in the U.S. came three years after Dodd, in 1996, when convicted murderer Bill Bailey was hanged in Delaware. The outdoor gallows used in that execution were later torn down.

(on camera): Once the vertebrae is broken, what would be the next thing to happen to the body? KOBILINSKY: Well, the next thing is the compression of the major blood vessels that feed the neck and supply oxygen to the brain. Those blood vessels are compressed. We're talking about the jugular vein and the deeper carotid artery. When you compress these blood vessels, there is no longer any supply of oxygen to the brain.

KAYE (voice-over): At three minutes, the brain will be dead from insufficient oxygen.

(on camera): With such a tight noose, three minutes seems like a very long time to actually cut off somebody's air.

KOBILINSKY: Well, it's a matter of the brain going into a -- a certain mode, where it tries to conserve energy and use whatever oxygen is available as efficiently as possible.

KAYE (voice-over): When the brain runs out of oxygen, the person will be declared dead, even though the heart may continue to beat for another 10 minutes

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Well, with that, let's now go back live to Iraq and Baghdad bureau chief Cal Perry, who is out on the streets, for the very latest.

Cal, what do we know at this point?

CAL PERRY, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Well, the word of the night, John, really here is anticipation.

Family members are not sleeping on this night in Baghdad. They're huddled around TVs. They're huddled around radios, really wanting to know what is going to happen for Saddam Hussein. Rumors here are just rampant when it comes to Saddam Hussein. If you talk to people on the streets, you often run into somebody who says: He will be freed. There's no way the Americans will hang him.

In fact, I spoke to the two gentlemen behind me just before this live shot. I heard something that I haven't heard in three years, John, which is a thumbs up; today is a good day for Iraq.

So, shortly before 5:00 a.m., this is truly a city that is not sleeping.

ROBERTS: Cal Perry, during the -- the actual sentencing phase of the Saddam Hussein trial for the Dujail conviction, there was a 48- hour lockdown in Iraq. Are we expecting that there will be a similar lockdown there with the Hussein execution, when it's announced?

PERRY: Well, we're guessing they probably will put a lockdown around the city. And they did the same thing, for example, when they killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. What they did was, they took all vehicles off the street. They took a lot of pedestrian traffic off the street in the major cities. This was a huge success in a lot of ways. It took car bombs off the sort of radar for insurgents. What they want to do, of course, is secure the city, make it safe as possible for people to walk around, but keep cars off the streets at the same time.

Obviously, this makes life difficult to go on. People, in general, in Iraq, plan ahead for these type of curfews. They're -- they're used to the sort of Friday , normal weekly curfews when it comes to Friday prayers. But they, of course, anticipate, large events like this, that there could be citywide, even nationwide curfews for up to 72 hours.

ROBERTS: Also, Cal, following the Saddam Hussein death penalty verdict, there was a brief uptick in violence, but it only lasted a few days. Do you expect that this could -- any -- any uptick in violence as a result of Saddam's execution could follow along the same pattern, or might it have more of a lasting impact?

PERRY: Here in Iraq, violence really ebbs and flows. We see it peak at times. And, other times, we see troughs.

Certainly, the U.S. military is very concerned that there will be an uptick in violence, especially amongst Sunni extremist groups. The real fear here on the ground, I think, amongst Iraqis is that there will be some kind of a Sunni backlash to an execution, and then a Shia retribution, that is, Sunnis attacking Shias, Shias attacking Sunnis.

The key here on the ground, of course, every day is sectarian violence. It is the thing that plagues Iraq on a daily basis. It is what the politicians are most worried about. The prime minister set forth a plan some four or five months ago to secure the capital, putting some 60,000 troops on the streets. More troops on the streets, in that instance, actually increased the violence. There were more people exposed, more U.S. troops, more Iraqi troops.

They gave the insurgents more of a target. So, it's really a give-and-take, when it comes to security here on the ground.

ROBERTS: Well, we will certainly find out soon enough.

Cal Perry, on the streets of Baghdad, thanks very much for the update.

In a moment, we will talk about cost, about a price that we measure in cold numbers, but would be better measured in tears and sorrow.

This is a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR: "The Execution of Saddam Hussein."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Just ahead: another grim milestone anticipated in Iraq this weekend. But, first, let's get a quick check of the headlines with Carol Lin. She's at the CNN Center in Atlanta -- Carol.

LIN: Recapping the top story, John, Saddam Hussein's hanging could happen within the next hour or so. An Iraqi appeals court judge has told CNN the ousted leader would be executed before dawn, local time. That's 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. The official witnesses to Hussein's execution have gathered in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in preparation for his death sentence to be carried out.

And Colorado's governor has declared a statewide disaster emergency, as the Denver region is being pummeled by its second major storm in as many weeks. More than two feet of snow is already being reported in the foothills outside Denver. Forecasters say it will continue to fall through the weekend. Hundreds of flights have already been canceled at Denver International Airport, the nation's fifth busiest airport.

All right. Also, a farewell service today for James Brown near his home in South Carolina. Hundreds of people filled the church, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, boxing promoter Don King, and comedian Dick Gregory. Yesterday, thousands of fans turned out at New York's legendary Apollo Theater to pay their respects to the man known as the godfather. James Brown died of heart failure Christmas morning at age 73.

And basketball legend Michael Jordan and his wife are getting divorced. In a statement, Jordan and his wife, Juanita, say they -- quote -- "mutually and amicably decided to end their 17-year marriage." Today's news apparently marks the end of a reconciliation attempt that came after Juanita Jordan withdrew a petition for divorce four years ago. They have three children.

Now back to THIS WEEK AT WAR.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): And now a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance.

MAJOR MEGAN MCCLUNG, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I think of this as a great opportunity to help Iraq really stand on their own feet as a nation.

ROBERTS: Major Megan McClung wanted to seize that opportunity, so much so that she rejoined the Marine Corps to serve in Iraq. A public affairs officer with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, she was escorting journalists in Ramadi. She was killed by a roadside bomb. One reporter called her his -- quote -- "guardian angel." Megan was 34 years old.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Major Megan McClung, one of more than 800 U.S. soldiers and Marines to die in Iraq this year.

Three more Marines died in Al-Anbar Province yesterday, bringing to 106 the number of deaths in December, tying October as the deadliest month this year.

And, in the next few days, we will surely pass a grim milestone, 3,000 American combat deaths since the invasion in March 2003. What's the political impact of that tragic statistic? And what kind of effect is it having on the military, in terms of morale and manpower?

Joining me now from Tucson, Arizona, is CNN military analyst Major General Don Shepperd, U.S. Air Force, retired, and, here in Washington, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry.

Ed, Condoleezza Rice said last week that the Iraq war is worth it, in terms of lives and expenditure. But with the violence continuing to increase, with these numbers of war dead continuing to increase, that case is getting more and more difficult to make.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

Any little political bump the White House might get out of the Saddam Hussein execution, reminding people about why the president went to war originally, that could be easily wiped out, obviously, by another grim milestone of 3,000.

When you look at the pressure that the -- that the president will face come January, just a couple of days from now, once these hearings on Capitol Hill start, you have multiple committees with Democrats taking over. They're going to be really digging in and providing the kind of oversight that Republicans, when they ran Capitol Hill, really didn't provide over this war.

That is going to make it even harder for the president to continue to send more troops and more money.

ROBERTS: General Shepperd, what -- what's the impact on the military and the personnel of these types of statistics? I rode with a lot of units, some of which were very, very heavily impacted by -- by combat deaths. They -- they have a tough time. They do seem to get through it, though.

MAJOR GENERAL DONALD SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they do, John.

The troops -- there's nothing harder on the troops out there in the field than losing a buddy, a man or a woman now. It's really, really difficult. The troops will get over it. They believe in what they're doing. They think what they're doing is important.

But it's extremely rough. There's nothing magic about the number 100 in a month. There's nothing magic about the number 3,000. But there's -- every death, especially for the kids in the field, is extremely difficult.

ROBERTS: Obviously, President Bush thinking a lot about this as well.

At his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on Thursday, after his meeting with his National Security Council, here's what the president had to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My thoughts are with the families who have just gone through a holiday season with their loved one overseas. My thoughts are with the troops as we head into 2007.

People always ask me about a New Year's resolution. My resolution is, is that they will be safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Of course, the president would like them all to be safe. They're not all safe.

I had the -- the tragic occasion of watching a soldier die before my very eyes, after an IED attack. How long can President Bush continue to throw blood and treasure at a problem that's not showing significantly progressive results?

HENRY: Clearly, time is running out, especially with Democrats taking over Congress, as I noted.

And the president has already said, to address some of the issues that you and General Shepperd were talking about in terms of broader military readiness, that he wants to increase the size of the Army and the Marines. But we all know that's going to take months. It's going to take years.

If there is a short-term surge of troops into Iraq, it's not going to come from more troops being added. What's going to happen is, the ones who are already there, who are already stretched thin, are going to have to stay another three months, another six months, et cetera, so, even more pressure on them. That puts more political pressure on the president.

ROBERTS: And, right now, they are talking about extending the rotation of Marines, because, typically, their rotation is about seven months, whereas the Army units have been there a year or more.

General Shepperd, as tragic as this number of 3,000 -- and we're getting pretty close to it -- probably will pass it in the weekend -- is, it could have been much worse, could it not, if -- if it weren't for advances in -- in personal protection, body armor, up-armored Humvees, and advances in medicine as well?

SHEPPERD: Well, a couple things about that.

First of all, there were a lot of questions early on about the equipment of U.S. troops over there. The equipment is absolutely excellent. And, also, the insurgents are smart enough not to directly attack U.S. forces anymore in large numbers. They get hammered every time they do that. That's our game.

But we continue to suffer from the IEDs. It's an extremely difficult problem. Again, this is something to which there is no solution. The longer we're there, the longer we stay, the more casualties there's going to be. If we send more soldiers in, there is going to be more casualties because there's more soldiers.

The -- the solution is to work our way out. And the president has got a real problem on his hand with high-stakes poker, John.

ROBERTS: General Shepperd, what's your sense of the Saddam Hussein execution? Will it in any way affect how people view the sacrifice made by these young men and women?

SHEPPERD: I don't know how to answer that.

I think what you will see in Iraq is very important. And that is, you will see a spike in violence by the insurgents of various type, particularly the former Baathists. They're going to seek a revenge. They're going to seek to make a statement. There may be some retaliation by the Shia against -- against the Sunni. All of this makes it harder.

The key -- and we keep saying this all the time -- the key is not military in Iraq. The key is political. There has to be reconciliation. We have to find a way, the Iraqis have to find a way, to get the Sunnis to join the government. That's the long-term solution, as we work our way out, John.

ROBERTS: Ed Henry, you thought that the president would get a little bit of a bounce out of the Saddam Hussein execution. What's your sense on how long he might get?

HENRY: I can't imagine it's going to last very long.

As General Shepperd points out, it's very hard, obviously, to put any sort of a figure on -- on how you measure sacrifice of -- of so many brave men and women who have died. So -- but I don't think that the Hussein execution, in and of itself, is really going to have that much of a political impact.

ROBERTS: All right.

Ed Henry, thanks very much.

As well, Major General Don Shepperd, appreciate you joining us.

Coming up: Will there be any lasting change in Iraq following Saddam's demise?

This is a special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR: "The Execution of Saddam Hussein."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Getting closer and closer now to zero hour. We're being told by Iraqi officials that Saddam Hussein may be put to death within the next hour.

With the exception of those who had vested interests in his political survival, there are few people the world over who mourn Saddam Hussein's passage from power.

His execution, however, is another matter. It provokes strong feelings, among Shiites, who believe he deserves to die, among Baathists and Sunnis, vowing reprisals if he is put to death, among death penalty opponents, and critics of the entire trial process.

The execution of Saddam will be a powerful symbol, no doubt. But will it have any measurable impact on Iraq's progress? Iraq's Shiite political elite is banking that Saddam's demise may convince Sunni insurgents that the old days are gone for good, that it's time to lay down their arms.

But, for the past three years, Saddam has been little more than a figurehead, a marginal one, at that. And the sectarian violence that has engulfed Baghdad and surrounding cities has nothing to do with Saddam.

Hanging the former dictator may cut the cord to a dark period in Iraq's history, but only a real commitment by the power brokers in Iraq, the politicians, the clerics, the warlords and tribal leaders, can put an end to Iraq's problems. And, at the moment, there appears to be no appetite for that, because, right now, there is too much to gain by continuing the fight.

Thanks for joining us on this special edition of THIS WEEK AT WAR -- straight ahead, more continuing coverage of the pending execution of Saddam Hussein on "LARRY KING LIVE."

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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