updated 10/18/2005 2:18:12 PM ET 2005-10-18T18:18:12

Saddam Hussein will be tried in a heavily guarded courtroom under rules grounded in international law but deviating from past war crimes tribunals on key points.

The major difference with recent trials is that Saddam faces the death penalty as a possible sentence. And unlike most similar cases since World War II, he will be tried by his own countrymen.

The tribunal was set up by an interim Iraqi government created by U.S. occupation authorities, although the court is now overseen by a democratically elected Iraqi government.

There will be no jury. The chief judge will question witnesses, and all five judges will decide the guilt or innocence of Saddam and his seven co-defendants. The judges will be permitted to draw help from international advisers.

Saddam will sit with his co-defendants, probably behind protective glass. He will have the right to call witnesses and, if convicted, to lodge numerous appeals before any sentence could be carried out. Each defendant will have at least one lawyer.

If convicted, Saddam can appeal to a nine-judge tribunal that is part of the special Iraqi tribunal set up to investigate crimes allegedly committed by Saddam and others during his 23-year rule.

Could be executed before facing other trials
If the sentence is upheld after all appeals are exhausted, then it must be implemented within 30 days, regardless of other judicial proceedings. If Saddam should be sentenced to death, that means he could be executed while some of the dozen or so trials he is expected to face go unfinished.

The charges in this case have not yet been specifically spelled out, but are expected to be laid out on the first day. The case centers on the role of Saddam and his co-defendants in a 1982 massacre of 143 people in Dujail, a mainly Shiite Muslim town north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt.

Saddam is not expected to enter a plea at the inaugural session. Instead, his lawyer is expected to ask for a delay, meaning the court could adjourn for several weeks after the initial day or two.

A decision has yet to be made on whether the faces and names of judges will be made public. Witnesses may get some type of protection, perhaps by screening their identities.

Reporters will watch the proceedings in the courtroom, and some photography will be allowed. But TV cameras are not expected to be allowed the first few days of the trial. It is unclear if they will be added later.

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