BAGHDAD, Iraq – The lawyer for Saddam Hussein said Tuesday he will ask a tribunal for a three-month adjournment of the former Iraqi dictator's trial for a 1982 massacre.
Saddam and seven senior members of his 23-year regime go on trial Wednesday to face charges they ordered the killings of nearly 150 people from the mainly Shiite town of Dujail (search) following a failed attempt on Saddam's life.
Khalil Dulaimi told The Associated Press he would ask during Wednesday's opening session for more time to prepare Saddam's defense and arrange for Arab and Western lawyers to join him in the defense team.
The defense also will challenge the court's competence to try Saddam.
"We will dispute the legitimacy of the court as we've been doing every day. We will claim it is unconstitutional and not competent to try the legitimate president of Iraq," Dulaimi said.
"Saddam Hussein is Iraq's legitimate president while the court is illegitimate because the U.S. invasion is illegal and everything that has been built upon it is just as illegal," he said.
The court is expected to grant an adjournment if the defense asks for one, court officials have said.
Dulaimi met with Saddam for 90 minutes Tuesday at a location other than the usual place of detention for the ousted Iraqi leader. Dulaimi would not elaborate.
Saddam's location has been kept secret since his capture by American troops in December 2003, but it is believed that he has been held at a U.S. facility at Baghdad International Airport (search).
Saddam was in high spirits and "very optimistic" on the eve of the start of his trial, Dulaimi said.
"I have just left him five minutes ago. His morale is very, very, very high and he is very optimistic and confident of his innocence, although the court is ... unjust," Dulaimi said.
If convicted, Saddam and his co-defendants could face the death penalty, but they could appeal before another chamber of the special tribunal set up to try the former leader and officials from his ousted regime.
Court officials have said they are trying Saddam on the Dujail massacre first because it was the easiest and quickest case to put together. Other cases they are investigating — including a crackdown on the Kurds that killed an estimated 180,000 people — involve much larger numbers of victims, more witnesses and more documentation.
Saddam and his co-defendants are expected to hear the charges against them during Wednesday's hearing.
An American adviser to Saddam's defense team said Tuesday the former dictator's rights were violated after his capture. Former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark said "the fundamental human rights that have been violated" include Saddam's right to a lawyer of his own choosing, access to facilities to prepare his defense, and access to a proper constituted court to challenge the charges.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search) complained Monday that the Iraqi court took an unjustifiably long time to prepare its case and brushed aside concerns that the court could be biased against the former dictator.
"I don't think there are any more clear-cut crimes in the world than those committed by Saddam," said the Shiite Muslim leader, five of whose close relatives, including an older brother, were executed by Saddam's regime in the 1980s and 1990s.
He underlined, however, that the deaths in his family did not mean he would get a sense of personal satisfaction if the former dictator is eventually executed.
"I try to forget what happened to my brother and my cousins. It is never an issue of revenge or personal malice," al-Jaafari said during a 21/2-hour meeting with journalists over "iftar," the sunset meal Muslims eat to break their fast during the month of Ramadan.
Al-Jaafari's Shiite Dawa Party (search) was blamed by the toppled regime for the attempt on Saddam's life in Dujail, a Dawa stronghold. Of the estimated 17 party members who opened fire on Saddam's motorcade, eight were killed in a shootout with troops from Saddam's elite Republican Guard. Nine others escaped and fled to Iran.
Al-Jaafari, who took office in April as the head of a Shiite-Kurdish coalition, said he wanted Saddam to have a fair and open trial, but made it clear that he preferred the proceedings not drag on.