"The president is in good health and good spirits in his illegal captivity," Ziyad al-Khasawneh said on Wednesday.

 

Khasawneh said Hussein met for six hours with Khalil al-Duleimi, an Iraqi member of the Jordanian-based defence team hired by his family to defend him against charges, including killing thousands of Iraqis.

 

"Al-Duleimi is on his way back to Amman and we will know more details," said Khasawneh, adding that the former president had not had contact with his lawyers since al-Duleimi saw him at the end of last year.

 

"The president will play a major role in setting his defence strategy. We have submitted numerous requests to the tribunal through the Iraqi Bar Association to see him over the past months but they only answered us now," he added.

 

The ousted leader has been behind bars since he was captured by US forces in December 2003, in the town of al-Dour near Tikrit. He is held in a US prison on the edge of Baghdad.

 

Al-Duleimi said after meeting Hussein four months ago that the former president denied a US account that he surrendered to US forces when he was found in a hole.

Charges

 

Hussein, a Sunni Arab, faces charges related to crushing Kurdish and Shia revolts.

 

One of the more specific charges against the former president accuses him of killing members of the Kurdish Barzani family en masse, as well as a 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja that killed thousands.

 

Hussein appeared in front of an investigative judge last year and defended his 1990 invasion of Kuwait as fulfilling a just territorial claim.

 

He denied committing the Halabja massacre and said he heard about that through the media.

 

The former president was born in 1937 in the Awja village near Tikrit north of Baghdad. He turns 68 on Thursday.