Saddam Sits Down With His Lawyer

Saddam Hussein met for the first time since his capture a year ago with a defense lawyer Thursday, two days after Iraq announced it will soon bring top figures of the fallen regime to court, the chief of the former dictator's legal team said.

Ziad al-Khasawneh said Saddam met for four hours with a representative of the legal team. He declined to identify the lawyer, but said he was Iraqi and that the meeting took place at Saddam's undisclosed detention site.

"He was in good health and his morale was high and very strong," al-Khasawneh said. "He looked much better than his earlier public appearance when he was arraigned a few months ago."

He provided few details on the meeting.

Al-Khasawneh said he did not know when Saddam, who was arraigned July 1 in Baghdad, would next be brought to court.

Saddam has been held at an unspecified U.S.-controlled jail since he was captured Dec. 13, 2003, eight months after he was toppled in the U.S.-led war. Until now, U.S. authorities have refused to let lawyers or family members see the Iraqi dictator.

No lawyer was at Saddam's side when he was arraigned on charges that included killing rival politicians over 30 years, gassing Kurds, invading Kuwait in 1990 and suppressing Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in 1991.

Saddam's legal team, which includes 20 lead lawyers and 1,500 volunteers, was appointed by Saddam's wife Sajida. The lead lawyers come from various countries including the United States, France, Jordan and Libya. Most of the volunteer lawyers are from Arab countries.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Tuesday that war crimes trials against Iraq's former Baath Party leaders will begin next week. Saddam will not be among those to appear in court. At the hearings next week, an investigative judge will question some of the defendants, the court announced Wednesday.

The trial of Saddam Hussein's henchman known as Chemical Ali could be the first test of the new Iraqi justice system, reports CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick.

Iraq's defense minister, Hazem al-Shalan, says the proceedings against him could begin as early as next week, and certainly before the elections slated for January 30.

Ali Hassan al-Majid was one of Saddam's most feared deputies. Among the charges he'll likely face: gassing up to 5,000 Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1980s.

The court appearance will be the first for any of the top figures of Saddam's ousted regime since they appeared before a judge five months ago.