Longtime Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was hanged early Saturday in Iraq. One member of his defense team, Bouchra Khalil, spoke later in the day to ABC News' Carolyn Durand and Mohammed Ajlouni.
Q: You're not only one of the leading members of the defense team, but a family lawyer, a close friend of the family and with them in the last several days by their side supporting them.
Bouchra Khalil: I expected the sentence for Saddam Hussein, especially in the last stage … as the sentence came Nov. 5. I thought there was a speed up in the decision making by the appeals court. They had 200 pages to study from the defense lawyers and they did that all in nine days. And it was was very surprising by how quickly they tried to do this and get the executions over with and done so quickly. I expected the sentence, but I did not expect the speed of carrying out the procedure of the execution.
I was surprised also the execution should have taken place 30 days after it was final and be certified by the president. They did it very quickly and without waiting the 30-day period that is required. When the lawyers said it should be within 30 days, the law says it has to be after 30 days the execution should take place. And it is morally, and for humanitarian reasons and tradition, they should have given him 30 days period to arrange his affairs. This is a violation of international law.
I spent the full day with the family yesterday [Friday]. They were very sure the execution would take place.
The girls were sure the execution would take place quickly. They had a feeling it would be done Saturday or Sunday. That's as of Friday.
We were watching TV all day yesterday and it was conflicting reports. Reports saying that they will execute him. Reports saying he was handed to the Americans. Reports saying he hadn't been handed to the Americans. Reports saying he would meet with his lawyers. Reports saying he couldn't be executed during the holidays. The girls were devastated. They were very nervous; they were in a terrible mood. They just had the feeling that his hours were near.
Rana -- she was the younger daughter -- she was crying. The grandkids were crying. She was in a terrible state. Raghad, the eldest had to play the role of the father. She did not cry. She tried to be the tough one, to be brave, to hold the family together. I felt that she wanted to break down and cry, but she didn't, but she was trying to be very strong in front of the sister and kids.
Raghad -- she wanted badly to go see her father. She was asking me, "I want to go see my father. I need to find a way to see him." And Rana did too. They were desperate in trying to find a way to see their father. Even though Raghad knew there was a warrant for her arrest if she arrived in Iraq, she really wanted to desperately find a way to see her father. Her mother called, Saddam's wife [Sajida] called. She said, "You should not go. You should not do this. I have had enough. What will happen if they arrest you? Who is going to take care of your kids?" And then Ali her son, Raghad's son, was talking to his mother and said, "You can not go, you cannot go." And it was like watching a play by Shakespeare, a Shakespearean tragedy.
In normal practices, the American authorities and the Iraqi authorities would have contact with us, what the procedure was, even for each session we would have communication with them they would tell us what was going [on]. Yesterday, we had no communication or anything. We have a lawyer in Baghdad who we thought would be in the picture, but he was not advised, he was not in the picture. We were calling everyone to find out what was going on but we couldn't. Even he was not told was happening. It was a very difficult day.
Q: How did Rana and Raghad react to the pictures they say today [Saturday]?
Khalil: Today it was a private day for them. It was a private family matter. I respected that -- do not know how they reacted .They wanted to be alone, just the family together and they did not want anyone there so I do not know.
Q: Were any letters written to Rana and Raghad? What were his last words? And do they have any message that they want to tell people about what it's been like for them?
Khalil: Yesterday [Friday], the lawyer called who met with the president [Saddam Hussein] on the 28th for two hours from 10 to 12. They said he was very strong, very powerful. … They were distracted and not happy, and he was giving the attorneys moral support and telling them, "If this is my fate, let it be," and he sent his regard to all the lawyers -- Ramsey Clarke, the foreign lawyers, the Arab lawyers. He thanked them for risking their lives to defend him and everything. And they asked him if he wanted to send letters to his family. He said just send them my regards. And he said he had sat with his two brothers. And at some time while the lawyer was there, an American doctor came to him and asked if he wanted medication to make him feel comfortable, and the president laughed and said his morale was high and he didn't need any medication.
Also, he told us that the day before he had a radio that was given to him by the Americans, and they told him the radio had some problems and they took it from him. And he knew that his hanging was near because they didn't want him to know his hanging was coming, so they took the radio away. So he knew it was coming.
Q: In the last day, was there anything special he asked for, any special meals? We know he gave a holy Koran at his execution to someone. Did he pass on any additional messages? What did he want to tell the world before he died?
Khalil: He did not ask for anything specific. He gave the Koran to the lawyer with him. We were told he gave to his brothers some messages or some letters. It's a family matter. He even did not ask to talk to his daughters by phone. And he knew he could ask and they would respect that wish. I know that he's very emotional, and he could not deal with talking to them on the phone and hearing them cry for him, so that's why he chose not to speak with them.
Q: Did he not speak to them because he wanted to protect them?
Khalil: I believe he did not want to talk because one time I told him Raghad was a little ill, and I was walking with him through the corridor and when I told him. He got really worried and nervous. I saw his reflection, his emotions. He loves his children so much that it shook him to know this, and he was almost in tears. And he loved her so much and for his own sake he didn't want to talk to her on the phone.
Q: I know you saw the pictures of his execution. As a friend, a lawyer, a legal adviser, what was that like for you?
Khalil: For three days, I did not sleep. I knew it was coming. I saw on Al Jazeera that he might be hanged this morning, and [knew] to be ready to come do an interview. She gave her condolences and announced on Al Jazeera this morning that he's been hanged. Later, when I saw the pictures I saw, that he was strong and he was not afraid, and he believed in his fate he's facing, and he was very solid and very brave in what I saw today. Today, I felt like he was my own father, as God has faith.
Q: There were reports by the Iraqi authorities that were there that he showed fear. Obviously everyone saw the video. She thought he looked strong He was given an opportunity to wear the hood and he chose not to.
Khalil: They lied. They want to smear his image in front of his people. But their lies are discovered when you watch the tape. Usually the people that do the execution -- their faces are not covered and he is covered. Today [Saturday], we saw the opposite -- that their faces were covered and he was not covered. And he was friendly with them. He was not hostile even though they were going to hang him. Even seeing the tape, it is a violation of human rights. This tape should never have been shown. The whole world knows this. But also I have something else to say. The people who had the masks on today, they look similar to terrorists, the exact same masks that the Zarqawi group wear when they hang people. It shows similarity between on the side of the government and the people of Zarqawi. They look like terrorists.
Q: Human rights groups have strongly objected this video being shown -- to an execution being televised as the most horrific inhumane things that can ever happen after the country of Iraq has been through so much already. What did the family think of this being publicized? Was there any benefit or was this just inappropriate?
Khalil: Showing this tape -- even though they showed his weakest points, they said he had an argument with Rubaie and his executioners -- it showed he was strong, so it benefited him.
For the family, as a friend of theirs for nine months, it will take me time to get over seeing him like this. For the family, it must be devastating to see their father paraded on TV like that.
Q: What's going to happen to the Iraqi people? Do you fear more violence? Will this add to the sectarian conflict, the already fractured country? What can we expect? Will this help or hurt the peace process and the healing in Iraq?
Khalil: It really does not matter if he lived a few more years. That is not the issue. It's not him living for a longer term. His death will add to the sectarian violence, the ethnic cleansing. It will not just add to the problems in Iraq. It will have an effect on Lebanon, on Palestine, on Syria, throughout the Middle East. His death is going to add to the hatred between the different sects.
Another reason his death makes me angry: I believe and know that Saddam could have played a role in stablizing Iraq again. He has a lot of followers in the insurgency. Three years, we haven't seen anyone that could fill the vacuum that Saddam has left. He's very charismatic, and we have not seen any other Iraqi leaders that can and enough support to stabilize Iraq. So I think we lost that opportunity. That makes me angry.
Also he's the only one that can allow the Americans to go home in a very honorable and proper way. Now we lost all that.
Q: What was your reaction and the family's reaction to the statement released by President Bush?
Khalil: I don't understand how the president of the biggest democracy in the world and the leader in the world can say Saddam had a fair trial and justice was served. We could not defend Saddam. He did not have a fair trial. Everybody knows this. This court already had a predetermined outcome. We couldn't defend him. I was kicked out of court. Many people got killed. So we don't understand how the president of the U.S. could claim that justice was served and he was given a fair trial.
Q: What do you think the Iraqi people think of the trial and the justice process? It must have been very hard for you to see people dancing in the streets.
Khalil: It is normal that we see people dancing in the street. He has enemies and he has people that love him. Seeing these pictures will add to the Iraqi divide. It will strengthen the feeling of revenge and of hatred. How can a government that is talking about uniting the people and consolidating the people be happy and talk about revenge and talk with pride that they executed him? There is one Iraqi government member who was in the cabinet -- he was happy that he got executed. Saddam is in the hands of God in Mecca. How could this man and others expect that Saddam's revenge will not lead to more violence?
Q: What do Raghad and Rana hope for the people of Iraq and their children?
Khalil: Rana and Raghad, just like all of us, see the situation in Iraq and think it's so bad. They don't think its going to change soon. That God will, in a few years, in many years, that the occupiers will leave and it will get better -- that's what they hope. They don't see it in the near future, but they hope within a few years it will get better. They hope it will get better.
Q: Do they hope to bring their children back to their homeland one day?
Khalil: For sure. She wants and they want to go back. The grandson of Saddam is in Qatar. He's 15 and he studies in Qatar. He was telling me he has to hide his identity so the students don't know who he is. Of course, the school administration know who he is, but they told him that people should not know he's the grandson of Saddam. It's not that it's a bad thing. They just think, for his well being, that it should be not known. He's a 15-year-old kid that has to hide his own identity in denial of who he is. I'm sure that they would like to live like normal people and go back to Iraq.
Q: How do they feel about the American people and do they differentiate between the individual American people and the American government?
Khalil: One time, I conveyed a conversation with the president, Saddam Hussein, that we had with the president about the Americans. One of the lawyers was saying, "The Americans, the Americans." The president stopped him and told him, "You should not say the Americans because the American people are different from the American administration. Even some people in the administration are good people. They can not judge all Americans are bad." And you could see that there were many people against the war and against everything. So he corrected him. So when we conveyed that to Raghad, Raghad agreed with this. Especially this American administration is so different than all the other administrations. When Clinton bombed Iraq in 1998 … [unintelligible]. … This administration doesn't listen to anybody and does not care about anybody, and so we differentiate and they differentiate -- as everybody does in this region -- between the American people and the American administration.
Q: And Raghad and Rana -- what kind of message do they have that they want to pass on to people?
Khalil: We in the Arab world always tend to keep our feelings and our messages private. We don't like to show people what we go through or talk about it. So I don't believe they have a message. Their pain -- they are holding that within themselves. I personally respect the American people, especially after the result of the last elections. The American people voted out the current Congress because of its foreign agenda. That shows the American people are ready for a change, and I respect them for it, people that want peace in the region. The Americans are trying to take over all the countries with wealth. They can do things in a different way by dialogue and getting people to cooperate, and not by occupation.