Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Execution of Saddam Hussein Imminent; John Edwards Discusses Iraq and the 2008 presidential race; Memorial Services begin for Former President Ford

Aired December 29, 2006 - 16:00   ET


ED HENRY. CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Fred and Don. To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

HENRY: Happening now -- Saddam Hussein in the shadow of death. It's midnight in Baghdad where some reports suggest the ousted Iraqi leader could be executed in the coming hours or even at any minute.

We'll have live updates on this developing story and we'll ask Hussein's lawyer what he knows about the timetable for Saddam's hanging

MALVEAUX: Also, this hour, tough questions for a presidential candidate. Is Democrat John Edwards ready to give up on Iraq? We'll talk at length with the former Senator about his change of heart on the war and his White House prospects.

HENRY: Plus, prayers and presidential honors. The first in a series of memorial services for Gerald Ford is under way right now in California and we've gotten the first glimpse at his widow since his death. We'll take you there.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

HENRY: This hour, heightened tensions suspense and some confusion in what could be Saddam Hussein's final hours.

MALVEAUX: One of Hussein's lawyers tell us the toppled Iraqi leader has been transferred from U.S. to Iraqi custody and could be executed very shortly. And a adviser to Iraqi's prime minister says the paperwork for Hussein's execution is in order.

HENRY: But on a day of conflicting reports about Saddam's fate nothing is certain until there is official word that he is, indeed, dead.

Let's check in with that member of Hussein's defense team right now Giovanni DiStefano, he's on the phone from Rome. And I first want to ask you, I spoke to you a couple of hours ago and you told me that you were getting word from a credible source that this execution could happen within a couple of hours. It's been a couple of hours. What do you know right this minute about Saddam Hussein's fate?

GIOVANNI DISTEFANO, SADDAM HUSSEIN DEFENSE ATTORNEY: We know nothing other than what I told you a couple of hours ago that obviously as lawyers, we have to make the provisions for the client and the family for in the event that the worst should happen.

Now, as I understand it, there is confirmation from the Defense Department in the United States that they say that as of now, they still have custody of Saddam Hussein. No I understand, that is the position because at the moment as we speak Nick Gillman, our lawyer from Washington, is in the District court in Washington before a judge with notice at the State Department there for a stay precluding the United States from handing him over.

So although he may have been physically handed over, the United States may very well have had a cause to effectively take him back in the event that Judge Sullivan grants the temporary restraining order, in which case, his life would then be spared at least for a period of time or until such further order of the court.

That is the position as we speak now. But if the execution takes place, if it does take place, obviously, we've put some steps in order that the bodies of the three people who are being executed will, of course, go to their families.

HENRY: OK, Mr. DiStefano, I just want to clarify a point that's very important. You told me early that you received an e-mail a few hours ago from the U.S. military saying that Saddam Hussein had been turned over from the U.S. to the Iraqi authorities. You're now saying that he may have been turned back to the U.S. authorities?

DISTEFANO: The e-mail certainly came not just to me, it came to other lawyers as well on the defense team there. That was timed at 4:47. But since the United States were on notice that there would be a hearing today, before a district judge in Washington, they may -- I just say may very well why they would have done -- had a cause to be able to take Saddam Hussein back in the event that the district judge granted a temporary restraining order, because if that didn't happen, if, in other words, they still gave Saddam Hussein to the Iraqis, despite a temporary restraining order, it would be a contempt of court and an impeachable offense for President Bush.

MALVEAUX: So just to be clear here, where is Saddam Hussein physically right now?

DISTEFANO: The State Department say that they still have control of him there.

MALVEAUX: Do you know where he is as his attorney, do you know where he is?

DISTEFANO: Well, I'm in Rome in Italy. The other lawyers are in Amman. We have one lawyer in Baghdad. You know, a whole state of confusion has arisen here.

We have conflicting e-mails, but the e-mail I prefer to believe is from the American government and the American government told us at 4:47 they handed him over to the Iraqis but an hour ago, the American governor said we still have control of Saddam Hussein.

I am saying why I believe that that may be the case. Because of the impending, on-going action which, as we speak, before the District court in Washington.

MALVEAUX: So, what is your understanding about what happens next here? When that transfer, the official transfer happens? Do you know if there will be pictures of Saddam Hussein's execution?

Will you get a heads-up on this? Will the United States, Iraqi authorities? Walk us through this procedure because it has been very confusing this afternoon.

DISTEFANO: Well, I mean, confusing is a key word there. Two weeks ago, there were 13 executions in Baghdad, of which two of them were shown on television.

In fact, all 13 were paraded on television but two were actually seen. So I don't know the position with Saddam Hussein (INAUDIBLE) because we're talking about three executions, not one.

HENRY: OK, now also, the New York is reporting that another one of Saddam Hussein's lawyers was asked to come collect his belongings. Can you confirm that?

DISTEFANO: I mean, there's nothing unusual in that. As we understand, that occurred early this morning because Saddam Hussein has an awful lot of stuff in his cell and the regulations, the American regulations, ironically, the health and safety regulations, said you couldn't have more than 25 kilos of stuff within your cell.

He had far more than that in documentation there and that was another state of confusion that arose there. We will not know until after I hear from Mr. Gilman who is in the District court, if a temporary restraining order has been granted then Saddam Hussein is going nowhere.

MALVEAUX: Is it true that Saddam Hussein's half brothers visited him in prison just yesterday and that he presented one of those brothers with a will to state his intentions? Are you aware that have?

DISTEFANO: Yes, I am. And of course, he is 70 years of age and there is nothing abnormal whatsoever. In the situation that he faces with a sentence of death and with a confirmation of sentence of death, it is the appropriate and correct and responsible thing to do. Remember, Saddam Hussein is a lawyer.

HENRY: OK, now earlier, you also told me that you had passed on and authorized a power of attorney to someone else in Baghdad to actually collect the body eventually from the Iraqi government. Can you talk about that first of all and secondly, what are the intentions of the Hussein family? My understanding they want the body to go to Jordan?

DISTEFANO: The body belongs to the family, belongs to the next of kin, it doesn't belong to the government. And that's the same of course under American law, English, Italian law, in any civilized law.

And in the event -- and I hope it's the unlikely event, but in the event that Saddam Hussein (INAUDIBLE) are executed, obviously the families want the bodies and they want the bodies sooner rather than later. And there is of course a power of attorney. Because you can't simply go and claim a body if you have no power of attorney.

MALVEAUX: How is Saddam Hussein spending his last hours? Do you know if he is talking with relatives? Is he reading? Is he eating? And when is the last time that you've actually talked with Saddam?

DISTEFANO: Well, I mean, that occurred more than two weeks ago. I mean, I'm still hoping and praying that there will be no execution and that the meeting on the 4th of January and other meetings that were scheduled by the American military will actually take place.

I pray that Judge Emmitt Sullivan does grant a temporary restraining order because if he does it will save a lot of people's lives, not just Saddam Hussein.

MALVEAUX: But in your discussions with fellow attorneys, do you know what is happening with Saddam Hussein? Do you know how he is spending his final hours?

DISTEFANO: Well, his final hours, what are the final hours of any person now, who knows? It's a state of confusion and I'm sure that Saddam Hussein will probably be as confused as what we all are as well.

HENRY: Can you tell us a little bit about the procedure? There were reports that there was a red card that Iraqi authorities will hand to Saddam Hussein directly. It's the red card used by Saddam's own secret police informing people that they were going to be killed, that he is going to get this red card.

And the judge in the appeals court has said they are very close to giving him this red card. What do you know about the procedure and how he will be notified?

DISTEFANO: I can only know the procedure by what occurred two weeks ago on the executions that there were no red cards that I saw and of course it's not a game of soccer and it would be wrong in my view, it would be vindictive and (INAUDIBLE) it's not what the Iraqi people or anybody would want if this man had received a fair trial, if he had received a proper trial and if he had been convicted in a fair trial, if he had been sentenced to death on fair trial, I'm sure you find that there would be a trickle of blood that would be instead of a river of blood that will occur if he executed under these circumstances. MALVEAUX: Questions?

OK. We thank you very much for your time. We're going to check back often with you throughout this hour and the following hour in THE SITUATION ROOM. We thank you very much Giovanni DiStefano, one of Saddam Hussein's attorneys.

Now let's get the latest word from Iraq, on the timetable for Saddam Hussein's hanging. CNN's Aneesh Raman is there. Can we talk a little bit about what you heard? React from that from Saddam Hussein's attorney, but also, more importantly, obviously, what you're hearing there on the ground, Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah Ed, first point that we can clarify, an appellate judge from the Iraqi high tribunal has told us that there will be no live broadcast of Saddam Hussein's execution. That's the only official word we've gotten in terms of what Iraqis and in fact the world will see of this execution.

The big question right now, to simplify this confusion, is where is Saddam Hussein? U.S. officials have been adamant up to this point saying he remains in their custody. We've heard, though, from a number of defense lawyers, as you heard there, that Saddam was handed over earlier today.

Why is this so critical? That handover is a final step before this execution takes place. In fact, that appellate judge has said once that handover happens the execution will happen almost immediately.

Now, the notion raised there by U.S. taking Saddam back in custody seems highly unlikely on the ground. It would clearly by Iraqis be seen as a process that is being hijacked from them.

We can tell you, though, there are a number of indicators that this execution is impending, a number of high government officials have been told to be on alert, to wait word from the prime minister's office.

MALVEAUX: Aneesh, you were saying that this execution is not to going to be broadcast live to the Iraqi people. Will there be a videotape that will be made available at some point? How will the Iraqi people be reassured that, in fact, this hanging has occurred?

RAMAN: It is a critical point, Suzanne, because Iraqis will fester with gossip that perhaps this hasn't happened unless they see the actual video or picture. We don't know, simply put.

The Iraqi government has been very tight-lipped. Some officials have suggested they will videotape it, making it unclear, though, when the video will be released. Others perhaps still photos will be released. We'll simply have to wait and see.

The government has been remarkably silent and tight-lipped on these plans because they haven't wanted to disclose when the execution will happen for security reasons and given the sensitivity on the ground, Suzanne.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Aneesh. We appreciate it. The very latest information there on the ground. We will be checking back often with Aneesh.

Still ahead, we are also tracking new information as it comes in on the execution of Saddam Hussein. Will his hanging help President Bush's Iraq problem here at home? The war and Saddam's death sentence in our "Strategy Session."

MALVEAUX: Also ahead, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Is his personal wealth at odds with his political message? Edwards talks with us at length about his campaign and the criticism of him.

HENRY: And the mile high city knee deep in snow yet again. How bad is it likely to get on the roads and at the airport? We'll have a live report on Denver's second dose of winter misery. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


HENRY: There's been a tornado warning in the Crawford, Texas area, that's, of course, where President Bush is. Also, we find our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano there. We understand this has affected the president.

What can you tell us, Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, just a few minutes ago, actually. In fact, as we speak, deputy press secretary Scott Stansel (ph) telling reporters that an earlier tornado warning around 2:00 local time actually sent the president and the first lady to seek shelter. Now, we're told that this was actually something that the president in going from the house to the armored vehicle that was on- site on the president's ranch, both the president and the first lady doing that because of these tornado warnings. One of them again specifically around 2:00 local time.

We should tell you we had about two of them so far, as I can recall here, and severe weather continues as we speak. But the president, of course, in addition to the weather activity, of course, monitoring the activities overseas as well.

The president, we are told, receiving regular updates as part of that. The regular briefings he has received, updates on Saddam Hussein as well.

But in terms of any kind of comment or public events for the president, we haven't seen anything and there is nothing scheduled, Ed or Suzanne, for the president until he returns to Washington, but aides say he continues to monitor the situation very closely.

MALVEAUX: And Elaine, just to be clear, Elaine, we know the president and the first lady are safe, that there is no harm.

QUIJANO: That's right.

MALVEAUX: That they are, in fact, out of danger?

QUIJANO: Yes. And we hope to get some more information. As I said, just a minute or so ago, before you came to me is, when, in fact, I was learning about this, but we know, again, this was happening around 2:00 when the tornado was issued here and a warning, as you know, is when something is spotted on the ground.

The president and the first lady ushered from the house to seek shelter in the armored vehicle that was on-site. And as far as we know the president and the first lady are just fine. We'll try to get some more information for you. Ed and Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Elaine, thank you so much. And of course, be safe.

HENRY: That's right. And we will be getting back to Elaine to talk about Saddam Hussein as well.

Still ahead, Saddam Hussein reveals how he would like to be remembered. Hear what he had to say in a rare CNN interview.

MALVEAUX: And James Brown's final journey home. We'll have the latest on the emotional sendoff for the godfather of soul. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Saddam Hussein's expected execution in the hours ahead, yet another milestone in a war that many Democrats want to see end sooner rather than later.

HENRY: Among those pushing for a quick pullout, the newest member of the Democratic presidential field.


HENRY: Joining us now, former Senator John Edwards.

Senator, welcome to the SITUATION ROOM.

JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER SENATOR (D-NC): Thanks. Thanks for having me.

HENRY: Now, you want to be commander-in-chief. And in your first move, you would take 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq. Do you really believe the Iraqi government could survive?

EDWARDS: Here's what I believe: I believe an escalation of our presence in Iraq is a enormous mistake. I think this McCain doctrine doesn't make any sense. There is no military solution to what's happening in Iraq. Everyone knows that. The only solution -- potential solution is a political solution. I mean, the Iraqis are going to have to decide whether they're actually going to have a representative government that includes everybody, including the Sunnis. And that's the only way to ultimately tamp down this violence.

If the idea is that we put more troops there and we stay there over and extended period of time for years and somehow that's going to solve this underlying political problem, it's just not reality.

HENRY: But, Senator, I want to ask about you, not about Senator McCain.

You want to pull 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq. Do you just want to give up?


HENRY: You want to give up?

EDWARDS: No. I think it's -- no, sir. I think we have two choices. And it's basically one -- they're bad and worse. We're in a very difficult situation. Nobody can say -- certainly with not any honesty -- that they -- the path that they're proposing will be successful in Iraq. We're in a very difficult situation.

Here's what I believe: I believe that the smartest and best thing for America to do is to make it clear that we're not going to stay in Iraq forever, that we're going to leave. I think that's the way to shift the responsibility to the Iraqis, to have the kind of political solution that they need. And I think the best way to signal that we're going to leave is to actually start leaving.

And there are a large number of provinces in Iraq that are, in fact, secure -- obviously not Baghdad, not the Sunni Triangle -- but there are places from which we could remove troops.

MALVEAUX: But Senator, the one thing that al Qaeda has said consistently is, they want a nation-state, they want Iraq, and commanders on the ground inside of Iraq and Baghdad say, you pull U.S. troops out now, that's exactly what you're going to give them.

EDWARDS: Here's the question: is America going to stay in Iraq for the next 20 years? I mean, are we going to have 150,000 troops in Iraq, or 100,000 troops, for the next 20 years?

MALVEAUX: But the question the president faces --

EDWARDS: Al Qaeda is a long-term -- long --

MALVEAUX: Mr. Senator -- I'm sorry, but the question the president faces, of course, is whether or not an immediate troop withdrawal is necessary, or a surge. You are arguing that we should withdraw troops, the president is considering, perhaps, putting more troops in, as well as your Democratic colleagues. How do you support that, when so many commanders on the ground say that is not the right thing to do?

EDWARDS: Every commander in Iraq, every military person that I've talked to about Iraq, says there is no military solution to Iraq. The argument that Senator McCain and the president, I presume, is going to make, is that, if we put more troops in Iraq, we can help stabilize the violence, and by stabilizing the situation on the ground, we can ultimately reach a political solution. I don't even think they would argue that anything other than a political solution is the solution to Iraq. That's obvious.

So I just think they're wrong about that. This is a judgment that has to be made. I think the most effective way to shift this responsibility to the Iraqi government, to reach a political solution, is to start shifting it to them now.

Now, there is a risk associated with that, in fairness, and being self-critical -- there is a risk associated with that. The risk is, as we embed American troops in Iraqi forces, that they become greater at risk when we're reducing our presence over time. That's the risk associated with what I'm suggesting.

HENRY: No, Senator --

EDWARDS: But there are risks associated with every -- every proposal that anybody makes has risks associated with it, and what we have to do is make our best judgment about what makes sense. And this is my best judgment about what we should do.

HENRY: Okay, now, Senator, you voted for the war in 2002 -- I know you've said you were wrong, it was a mistake. But you said, at the time, quote, "Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a menace. He is doing everything in his power to get nuclear weapons." Saddam Hussein is about to be executed; we all know that. Do you think the president at least deserves some credit for getting that part of the job done?

EDWARDS: I think the American military deserves credit for their success in Iraq and for capturing Saddam Hussein, and Saddam Hussein being out of power and being executed is a good thing.

HENRY: Are you concerned that there may be more terrorism directed at the United States, more attacks on U.S. soldiers, after Saddam is executed, though, that that might spark more violence?

EDWARDS: No, I think -- first of all, there's no way to predict what's going to happen. But my gut tells me that it's likely to have a more positive than negative influence.

But I think the most important thing about what's happening in Iraq is, the fighting and the violence, the sectarian -- the Shia/Sunni violence -- that's going on now is being driven by the fact that the Sunnis don't have a stakehold in the long-term success of a unified government. And unless and until that happens, we're going to continue to see the violence that we're seeing now.

MALVEAUX: Now Senator, you have said that your vote, of course, for the Iraq war was a mistake -- obviously, looking to the American people to forgive you for that mistake. But a likely opponent of yours, Senator Barack Obama, has been very consistent on his position against the war, from the very beginning. Why shouldn't the American people believe that this is simply just a convenient message, a flip- flop, on your part, if you will, to win the vote? EDWARDS: Well, you're making all the arguments today.

The answer to that question is, I said what I said about the war in Iraq, not for politics, not for any reason other than I think it's important for all of us to take responsibility for what we did. I voted for this war; I take responsibility for that. I don't put responsibility on anybody else. Whatever the consequences of that are, political or otherwise -- more important, personal -- I accept those responsibilities.

And I think what I'm asking America to do today, as a candidate for president of the United States, is, I'm asking Americans to take responsibility for their own country, not just for their individual responsibility, their individual actions, but to actually be patriotic enough to not wait for just the government to solve their problems, or the president to solve their problems, but to take responsibility and take action. That's what my campaign is about and it's what it's based on.

Well, it's a little hard to do that if I don't personally take responsibility for what I've done, good and bad. And I've done good and bad; I'm not perfect -- I'm human, just like everybody else.

MALVEAUX: And of course, Americans had their choice in 2004; they didn't pick Kerry. Your home state, North Carolina, did not pick you. Why do you think that this message of two Americas is going to resonate any more so with the American people, than it did when you first presented it? It's no longer a fresh or new idea.

EDWARDS: And it's not the basis for my campaign. What I have learned -- I'm like a lot of people, we all mature and evolve as we go through life -- and what I've learned is, it's a wonderful thing to identify a problem, which I did, of the two Americas in 2004, to talk about hope and inspiration, which I've done an awful lot, in the past, but it doesn't change things. If you want to change things, you actually have to take action. You have to take responsibility. I've actually seen it happen in the last few years, where we raised the minimum wage, and made college available to kids who are willing to work, and organized workers around the country into unions.

You can't wait and hope that the next election is going to produce a president or a political leader who will solve your problems. America, at its best, is when Americans, themselves, take action. That's what the `greatest generation' did, the government and American citizens working together. It's what America needs again. We can't just sit home and complain about somebody else not doing what they're supposed to. All of us have to do that --

HENRY: Senator --

EDWARDS: -- and take our own responsibility.

HENRY: Senator, as a last question, you've talked about ending poverty, but you know the attacks are out there already: in 2004, Republicans said you were a wealthy trial lawyer, and they used that as a negative. Now, already, the New York Post -- the headline was, `A State of Denial,' talking about your anti-poverty campaign, at the time -- same time, you're buying a $3.1 million beach house. Do you have an image problem?

EDWARDS: Well, at risk of arguing with you, your facts were completely messed up. But I -- I won't go into that. It doesn't matter.

The truth is that I have now had -- had everything you could ever have in this country. And I have been totally open about that. Everybody knows it. It's not the place I started from. I make jokes now about being the son of a mill worker, because everybody has heard that ad nauseam, and they don't want to hear it anymore.

But I came from a very different place. And I have been lucky enough to -- to have everything you could ever have in this country. And I feel a responsibility to help people help themselves. It's for you and the American people to judge whether they think that's real and authentic. I believe it is, but that's not my judgment to make. It's for people who are listening and hearing what I have to say to make.

HENRY: And, Senator, as a final question, obviously, your wife had breast cancer at the end of the last campaign.

How is your family now, as you approach this campaign? And how did that change your outlook on life, obviously, having such a -- a close loved one go through such a battle like that?

EDWARDS: Well, you know, we -- I'm like millions of Americans. We don't -- I don't claim to be unique. And we certainly don't claim to be unique in some of the things that we have faced.

You know, my -- Elizabeth went through breast cancer. She's been -- she's doing great, to answer your question, doing very well. My kids are doing great. They're in school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where we live. My older daughter, we're all -- we're all -- we're all doing fine.

And, you know, we -- as Elizabeth has talked about a lot, we lost our son about 10 years ago, a little over 10 years ago, which was a traumatic event in our -- in our family's life. But we have been blessed, you know?

And -- and this -- what I have done is made the decision in my own heart that -- that the best way for me to serve this country is -- is to run for president. And that's what this is about for me. It's about service.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, former Senator John Edwards.

Of course, it was exciting to cover you the last time in the campaign. And we will have more good times on the road, I'm sure, in -- in the following years to come.

Thank you again for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

EDWARDS: Thanks, Suzanne.

HENRY: Thank you.

EDWARDS: Thank you for having me.

MALVEAUX: And new polls show John Edwards is among the top contenders in the early presidential battlegrounds.

A new American Research Group survey of likely Democratic caucus- goers in Iowa shows Senator Hillary Clinton leading the pack, 11 points ahead of Edwards. Outgoing Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Senator Barack Obama round out the top four. In New Hampshire, Senator Clinton also comes out on top. The ARG poll of likely Democratic primary voters shows Senator Obama a close second in the Granite State, followed by Edwards.

It is worth noting that the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, gets only single digits in both states.

Now to the Republicans -- the ARG poll of likely GOP caucus-goers in Iowa shows former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani narrowly leading Senator John McCain. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich comes in third.

It's a similar matchup among Republicans in New Hampshire, but, there, it's McCain who has a slight edge. Outgoing Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney doesn't break out of single digits in either state.

HENRY: And coming up: President Bush and the first lady are forced to take evasive measures because of a tornado warning in Texas. They were actually moved to an armored car.

MALVEAUX: Plus: a new development in Saddam's pending execution, as his legal team takes their fight to a U.S. court to stop his execution.

Coming up, we will talk to one of Iraq's representatives to the United Nations, as we all await Saddam's fate.


MALVEAUX: A new development just in on, of course, the state of the execution of Saddam Hussein -- this is now -- it's a confusing and rapidly developing story.

It is now back in the hands of the U.S. courts.

We go to Brian Todd for the latest details, this latest twist on the fate of Saddam Hussein.

Brian, what are you -- what -- what can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, a lot of moving parts here. CNN has confirmed that attorneys for Saddam Hussein are seeking a temporary restraining order in a U.S. court to at least temporarily block his execution. I'm holding up the document that was just filed in U.S. district court here in Washington.

It says here: "Saddam Hussein, by -- by counsel, submits this application for a temporary stay of execution, pursuant to the equitable powers of this court." This document states that Saddam has been named in a -- as a defendant in a civil action, and has not, essentially, had due process to deal with that action, and that his incarceration has prevented him from receiving proper due process in that civil action.

Now, it also -- this is predicated, I guess, upon him still remaining in U.S. custody. It's not clear at this hour whether he is still in U.S. custody, or whether he has been handed over to the Iraqis. We're told that there is a district judge on call here at U.S. district court here in Washington.

She will be the one who will be, I guess, weighing in on this. And there -- but -- however, is there no precedent for a U.S. court getting involved in this kind of an action. And there has been no word from the Justice Department yet on this particular filing.

But, as we know right now, with this document just filed at U.S. district court here in Washington, Saddam Hussein's attorneys, at least temporarily, trying to block his execution.

MALVEAUX: And, Brian, just to be clear here, if Saddam Hussein has already been transferred to the Iraqi government, this really is a moot point; it's an academic exercise by the attorneys, Saddam Hussein's attorneys.

But it looks like we can assume, if we believe what the attorneys say, as well as some other reports, that perhaps Saddam Hussein is still in U.S. custody, and that this would play out in the U.S. courts.

TODD: It could possibly. And I think that's even unclear right now, because of -- of the situation. It's very unique. He's in U.S. custody, but the Iraqis were presiding over his trial. And, again, we don't know, at this hour, whether he is in Iraqi or U.S. custody. That's been very fluid over the last few hours.

This may be a -- you know, a very moot document, and just maybe a procedural thing to try to delay this execution somehow. From every word we're getting, it's -- it's -- it's not really at all clear that it will delay that execution.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Brian.

HENRY: We will get back to you for sure.

This hour, we are also waiting for the official word and watching for any new signs on the ground about when Saddam Hussein will go to the gallows. Want to get the latest word right now from Baghdad.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is there.

Aneesh, can you weigh in on what Brian Todd was just reporting about what is happening? I realize you are not following what is happening in the U.S. courts. But what is your understanding there on the ground about the likelihood that the Iraqi government would want the U.S. courts involved here?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They wouldn't, is the short answer.

There's two issues here. First, if there is a ruling that comes out of that court -- and, as Brian said, there is really no precedent for a U.S. court to stay an execution in these extraordinary circumstances -- it could perhaps come at the end of the day. It is still Friday in the United States. It is already Saturday here.

And we have heard suggestions from a number of officials that this execution could happen within the coming hours on Saturday. So, the two are not mutually exclusive, if we get an order coming out of that court today.

The other question that people might be wondering is, why is Saddam Hussein still in U.S. custody? Throughout the trial, he has remained in U.S. custody at Camp Cropper, mainly because the Iraqi authorities haven't had the logistics, the security apparatus, to hold Saddam Hussein.

The ultimate handover from U.S. officials to Iraqi authorities is really the immediate first step towards Saddam's execution. We have heard, in the past hour or so, from an appellate judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal, who says, when that handover happens -- and he didn't confirm or deny that it had -- the execution would happen, in his words, almost immediately.

We can also tell you, a number of high-ranking Iraqi government officials have been put on high alert, waiting for word from the office of Iraq's prime minister as to when this execution will happen. Those are government officials who expect to witness the execution.

And, from virtually everyone that has made any statement out of the Iraqi government, the suggestions are, this execution will happen in a matter of hours -- Ed.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Aneesh, there on the ground. We will be getting back to you throughout THE SITUATION ROOM.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Aneesh.

And, of course, coming up: the latest on Saddam Hussein's pending execution. Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations is live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Will there be a Sunni backlash when Saddam is put to death? In our "Strategy Session": Would Saddam's execution have any bearing on the debate about the war in Iraq that is raging here in the states?



HENRY: More now on our top story: Saddam Hussein's expected execution and what it may mean for the Iraq war debate here at home.

Joining us now for our "Strategy Session," CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Terry Jeffrey, editor of "Human Events."

Of course, Saddam Hussein, no friend of the Bush family. The first President Bush went in, in the first Gulf War -- a lot of criticism within this president's administration that he did not finish the job.

Let's take a quick listen to what President Bush said about Saddam Hussein recently.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us. There's no doubt he can't stand us. After all, this is the guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.


MALVEAUX: So, this period of time, the Bush administration being very cautious not to get ahead of this, to look like they are dancing on his grave. But, clearly, they're -- they're on the death watch, too. This -- this could be a very good day for the Bush administration.



You know, that attempt on President Bush Sr.'s life was really emblematic of the sort of reckless and murderous person Saddam Hussein was. The final report showed that they took a SUV packed with plastic explosives that would have leveled everything within 400 meters of downtown Kuwait City.

If that bomb had gone off, it not only would it have killed the senior President Bush. It would have killed hundreds of innocent people. And that is what this guy has been held accountable for, mass murder. So, I think, just in the name of justice, it's a good man that this man's execution goes forward.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm worried about the reaction to the execution. Quite frankly, I'm not a fan of the death penalty. And I cannot in any way support it.

But I'm worried about the reaction. Are we prepared, if all hell breaks loose? We know that there's a lot of tension, perhaps a civil war. Are we prepared, right now, if the Sunnis decide to, somehow or another, you know, go on a rampage? We know the Shias and the Kurds will rejoice over this execution. But I'm worried about the overall situation on the ground.

HENRY: The situation on the ground already, obviously, very tense and very difficult, as it is. "The Washington Post" has a report today saying that perhaps a troop surge might -- likely to be only 20,000 more U.S. troops. Originally, we heard it could be 30,000 to 40,000 more.

Terry, this might not be much of a surge. Will it really have any sort of a dent, any sort of impact on the ground?

JEFFREY: I think, really, as I -- I agree with what Senator Edwards was saying earlier.

The military -- a military solution isn't going to solve the political problem in Iraq. President Bush has said that. Donald Rumsfeld has said that. And -- and one of the things that is needed is not just justice for Saddam Hussein, but justice for the Sunni people, who, right now, do not believe that the Shia-dominated government has given them a fair deal on the oil.

They think that the de-Baathification progress went too far. Everybody used to have to join the Baath Party if they were going to be part of the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. So, there's a question of whether lower-level people ought to let -- be let back into the political process. And, also, there's a question of potential amnesty for insurgents who haven't, in fact, committed war crimes.

So, I think those issues have been to be pressed with the Shiite government. And, ultimately, there has to be justice for the Sunni people, if there is going to be peace in Iraq.

BRAZILE: And what is the path of reconciliation? We know that the prime minister tried to convene a conference to bring all the parties together.

But, unless the Shias, the Kurds and -- and the Sunnis all believe that they have a stake in the future of Iraq, we cannot hope to achieve anything by escalating our -- our troops there.

Look, I would hope, at the end of the day, that we not execute Saddam on a Muslim holiday. This is a -- a holy time for the Muslims. They're -- there's a pilgrimage to -- to Mecca. And I think that's in bad taste, perhaps.

I'm Catholic. I don't know if that is in poor taste as a Muslim, but it -- it appears to be in bad taste.

HENRY: It's the Iraqi government that's doing it, not -- when you said that we're not doing this, we shouldn't be doing it...

BRAZILE: Well, we're holding him. I don't know if we...

HENRY: It's the Iraqi government.

BRAZILE: I don't -- I -- the United States of America is holding him right now. We have not turned him over. Perhaps we have turned him over.

MALVEAUX: Well, what did -- what...

BRAZILE: But, as long as we're holding him, we have something -- we're involved in it as well.

MALVEAUX: What is the relevance of Saddam Hussein's execution, anyway? I mean, the Shiites, the Sunni, they're -- they're always going to continue to fight. I mean, this is -- how much political mileage can the Bush administration get out of this?

JEFFREY: Well, I -- I don't know that the Bush administration is going to get political mileage out of this.

But it does remove one nightmare scenario from the table. If, in fact, we were going to completely remove our troops from Iraq, as some politicians in this town want, which I think would be a serious mistake, and there were an all-out, unchecked civil war in Iraq, at least it forestalls the possibility that a Baathist insurgency could take power and put Saddam back in place. At least that's off the table, once this execution takes place.

HENRY: What about another point that Senator John Edwards made -- former senator -- earlier about John McCain's plan for a surge in troops?

From a strategy perspective, John McCain was really the one out in front on that all along. Do you think that's a good political strategy for a presidential campaign, at a time when the war is so unpopular? What is your...

JEFFREY: Look, I think that politicians have to put aside political considerations when we're talking about the security of the United States, especially when we're in a war where Americans are dying in Iraq.

I believe that John McCain's suggestion that we have a surge in troops is sincere. That is his best considered judgment. You have other people, other Republicans, who disagree. Donald Rumsfeld didn't agree with that. Duncan Hunter, the Armed Services chairman, outgoing, from the Republican majority, he doesn't agree with that.

I believe President Bush, when he comes out with his new strategy, is going to put forward what he thinks is in the best interests of this country. And I hope that Democrats will look at it honestly and conscientiously to see if they can get behind it.

BRAZILE: Well, and Colin Powell doesn't believe it's a good idea.

But, look, we have to see what the president will recommend. He made recommend enormous things. He may recommend economic incentives. He may have some reconstruction.

But, unless we involve some of the neighbors, who are already engaged in fighting against our -- our wishes, I don't think we will have a longstanding solution.

HENRY: Thank you very much, Donna Brazile, Terry Jeffrey -- fascinating times, indeed.

Coming up: Colorado Governor Bill Owens has the National Guard on standby, as snow and sleet sock it to the Mile High City for the second time in a week. We will get a live report from Denver.

And, as Americans remember their 38th president, tributes are pouring in to CNN. Our online team will bring you those e-mailed memories. And we will get a live report from the memorial services.

Stay tuned. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: The family of former President Gerald Ford is publicly mourning the loss of the 38th president today. Former first lady Betty Ford is taking part in a memorial service in California today, the first in a series of official tributes in the coming days.

Let's check in with Dan Simon in Palm Desert, California.

Obviously, a very emotional and difficult occasion for the family, Dan.


Friends of the family just filed into the church, a private service going on right now for close friends, and, of course, for the entire Ford family -- a beautiful day here in Palm Desert, California, a very intimate atmosphere.

For the first time, we saw Mrs. Ford since her husband's death. We saw her at the front of the church, received Mr. Ford's casket.

Later on today, there's going to be an opportunity for the public to come in and say goodbye to Mr. Ford. Tomorrow, his body is going to be flown to Washington, D.C. He will lie in state in the Rotunda on Sunday and Monday. There will also be a state funeral on Saturday.

And, then, next week, there's going to be a service at the National Cathedral. That's going to take place on Tuesday. And, then, finally, on Wednesday, Mr. Ford's body will be flown to Michigan, where he will ultimately be laid to rest -- again, a private service taking place here in Palm Desert. This was a very simple service, very somber. And this is exactly the way Mr. Ford would have wanted it -- Ed, back to you.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Dan Simon, in California.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Dan. HENRY: We appreciate it.

As memorial services for former President Ford get under way in California, friends and admirers are sharing their memories and tributes online.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is standing by with your reports.

Jacki, what are you getting?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: And we are getting some incredible, intimate photographs -- this one coming to us from Kevin McCowan in Wailuku, Hawaii.

He took this photograph in 1975 at the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. He said this was taken at Ford's departure from the Hitchens (ph) Air Force Base. There was a receiving line. And everybody in it gave the president lei. McCowan says he was a Navy photojournalist until 1978, and now he does freelance photography.

Another portrait sent to us from photographer David Dejonge, this was taken in 2003. It's the last formal portrait taken of the president, on his 90th birthday party celebration in Grand Rapids, Michigan. David said he followed the president around for a couple of days, with the former president, and said what he was compelled by is his ability to connect with people and build rapid friendships.

And just want to bring this one, real quickly. This is Lori Talo, a repeat I-Reporter, who continues to send us images of the memorials at the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ed, Suzanne, there's amazing pictures still coming in to us on I- Report.

HENRY: Some fascinating images. Thanks, Jacki.

Still to come, in our next hour, Ambassador Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, will be live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will get the latest on when the former Iraqi leader will be put to death.

MALVEAUX: And, up next, our Jacki Schechner has your tributes to President Ford. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Carol Lin joins us now from the CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta with a closer look at the other stories making news.

Carol, of course, many other stories, but, tonight, that Saddam Hussein execution watch.

CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. Good to see you both, Suzanne and Ed. After an overnight trip from Atlanta for a public viewing in Harlem yesterday, James Brown's body is now in South Carolina. Friends and family gathered a short time ago for a private ceremony at a church just outside of Augusta, Georgia. Another public viewing is scheduled for tomorrow in Augusta.

Now, in life, Brown was no stranger to travel. A stint of 300 shows in a single year earned him the nickname the hardest-working man in show business. He died of heart failure on Monday.

And Chrysler has struck a deal with a Chinese automaker to make some small cars for sale worldwide. The company says it cannot make money making very small so-called B-cars in the United States. Chrysler is a division of DaimlerChrysler, and includes the Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands. The deal still has to be approved by the company's board and the Chinese government.

And newly declassified documents show that John F. Kennedy was the subject of death threats when he visited Ireland back in 1963. Irish police documents made public a short time ago detail three separate threats against the former president. One claimed a sniper would target Kennedy's motorcade. Another warned of a bomb targeting Air Force One, while the third was less specific. The visit went off without a hitch. Kennedy, though, was assassinated in Dallas five months later.

And that's it here from the world headquarters -- back to you, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Carol, great to see you.