Before Hanging, A Push For Revenge And A Push Back

Before Hanging, A Push For Revenge And A Push Back
January 7th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Before Hanging, A Push For Revenge And A Push Back

Before Hanging, A Push For Revenge And A Push Back
New York Times
January 7, 2007
Pg. 12
By John F. Burns
This article was reported by John F. Burns, James Glanz, Sabrina Tavernise and Marc Santora and written by Mr. Burns.
BAGHDAD, Jan. 6 — When American soldiers woke Saddam Hussein in his cell near Baghdad airport at 3:55 a.m. last Saturday, they told him to dress for a journey to Baghdad. He had followed the routine dozens of times before, traveling by helicopter in the predawn darkness to the courtroom where he spent 14 months on trial for his life.
When his cell lights were dimmed on Friday night, Mr. Hussein may have hoped that he would live a few days longer, and perhaps cheat the hangman altogether.
According to Task Force 134, the American military unit responsible for all Iraqi detainees, Mr. Hussein “had heard some of the rumors on the radio about potential execution dates.” But never one to understate his own importance, he had told his lawyers for months that the Americans might spare him in the end, for negotiations to end the insurgency whose daily bombings rattled his cellblock windows.
As Mr. Hussein prepared to walk out into the chill of the desert winter, dressed in a tailored black overcoat, that last illusion was shattered. After being roused and told that he was being transferred to Iraqi custody, a task force statement e-mailed to The New York Times a week later revealed, “he immediately indicated that he knew the execution would soon follow.”
“As he left the detention area, he thanked the guards and medics for the treatment he had received,” said Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, spokesman for the task force. Mr. Hussein was then driven to a waiting Black Hawk helicopter for a 10-minute flight to the old Istikhbarat prison in northern Baghdad, where a party of Iraqi officials awaited him at the gallows. “During this brief period of transfer, Saddam Hussein appeared more serious,” the task force said.
The time as the helicopter took off was 5:05 a.m., and Mr. Hussein had 65 minutes to live. But as he flew over Baghdad’s darkened suburbs, he can have known little of the last-minute battle waged between top Iraqi and American officials — and among the Americans themselves — over whether the execution, fraught with legal ambiguities and Islamic religious sensitivities, should go ahead.
American opposition to executing him in haste centered partly on the fact that the Id al-Adha religious holiday, marking the end of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, began for Sunnis at sunrise on Saturday. In Baghdad, the sun was to rise at 7:06 a.m. Iraqi government officials had promised the hanging would be over before the dawn light began seeping through the palms that shade the capital’s streets.
The taunts Mr. Hussein endured from Shiite guards as he stood with the noose around his neck have made headlines around the world, and stirred angry protests among his fellow Iraqi Sunnis. But the story of how American commanders and diplomats fought to halt the execution until midnight on Friday, only six hours before Mr. Hussein was hanged, is only now coming into focus, as Iraqi and American officials, in the glare of international outrage over the hanging, compete with their versions of what happened.
Tensions Boil Over
It is a story of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, trying to coerce second-tier American military and diplomatic officials into handing over Mr. Hussein, first on Thursday night, then again on Friday. The American push back was complicated by the absences of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American military commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who were both out of Iraq on leave. The American message throughout was that rushing Mr. Hussein to the gallows could rebound disastrously, as it did.
It is a story, too, of the Americans disagreeing among themselves. After a final call to Mr. Maliki at 10:30 p.m. Friday, American and Iraqi officials said, Mr. Khalilzad concluded that there was no prospect of persuading the Iraqis to delay the execution and passed that message to Washington. The conclusion found little favor with the military, who were the ones who had to transport Mr. Hussein to the gallows.
For General Casey and Mr. Khalilzad, close partners here, the messy ending for Mr. Hussein was made worse by the confirmation this week that Mr. Bush will soon replace both men as he refashions his Iraq war policy.
There were disputes among the Iraqis as well. At least one senior judge from the tribunal that sentenced Mr. Hussein to die, and three American lawyers who worked closely with the Iraqis at his trials, fought their own rearguard battle, telling fellow Iraqis how surprised they were that he received the death sentence in the narrow case that produced it — the “systematic persecution” of Dujail, a small Shiite town north of Baghdad, after an alleged assassination attempt against Mr. Hussein there in 1982.
In interviews with dozens of American and Iraqi officials involved in the hanging, a picture has emerged of a clash of cultures and political interests, reflecting the widening gulf between Americans here and the Iraqi exiles who rode to power behind American tanks. Even before a smuggled cellphone camera recording revealed the derision Mr. Hussein faced on the gallows, the hanging had become a metaphor, among Mr. Maliki’s critics, for how the “new Iraq” is starting to resemble the repressive, vengeful place it was under Mr. Hussein, albeit in a paler shade.
The hanging spread wide dismay among the Americans. Aides said American commanders were deeply upset by the way they were forced to hand Mr. Hussein over, a sequence commanders saw as motivated less by a concern for justice than for revenge. In the days following the hanging, recriminations flowed between the military command and the United States Embassy, accused by some officers of abandoning American interests at midnight Friday in favor of placating Mr. Maliki and hard-line Shiites.
But for Mr. Maliki’s inner circle, the hanging was a moment to avenge decades of brutal repression by Mr. Hussein, as well as a moment to drive home to Iraq’s five million Sunnis that after centuries of subjugation, Shiites were in power to stay. At the “White House,” as his officials now describe Mr. Maliki’s headquarters in the Green Zone, a celebratory dinner began Friday night even before the Americans withdrew their threat not to hand over Mr. Hussein.
An Iraqi who attended the hanging said the government saw the Americans as wasting time with their demands for a delay until after the four-day Id al-Adha holiday, and for whatever time beyond that required to obtain the legal authorizations they considered necessary. For the Americans to claim the moral high ground afterward by disavowing the hanging, the Iraqi said, was disingenuous.
“They cannot wash their hands, this is a joint responsibility,” he said. “They had the physical custody, and we had the legal custody. At one point, I asked, ‘Is it our call or is it your call?’ They said, ‘It’s your call.’ I said, ‘If it’s our call, we’ve made the decision.’ ” Legal niceties could not save Mr. Hussein, he said, concluding, “The man has to go.”
In a speech on Saturday, a week after the hanging, Mr. Maliki showed that he remains as angry as the Americans. Hitting out at governments and human rights organizations around the world that have condemned the hanging, he said they were hypocritical. “We’re wondering where these organizations were during the crimes of Anfal and Halabja,” he said, referring to Mr. Hussein’s persecution of Iraqi Kurds. “Where were they during the mass graves and the executions and the massacres that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?”
Differing Timelines
The countdown to the hanging began eight weeks earlier, on Nov. 5, as Raouf Abdel-Rahman, the chief judge in the Dujail case, passed death sentences on Mr. Hussein and two associates, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Mr. Hussein’s half-brother, and Awad al-Bandar, chief judge of Mr. Hussein’s revolutionary court, for crimes against humanity in the hanging of 148 men and boys from the Shiite town. “Go to hell, you and the court!” Mr. Hussein yelled as bailiffs ushered him out.
The widespread expectation was that the appeal of the death sentences would run for months, allowing time for the more notorious Anfal case, involving charges of genocide in the killing of 180,000 Kurds, to be completed before Mr. Hussein was hanged. American lawyers in the embassy’s Regime Crimes Liaison Office, the behind-the-scenes organizer of the trials, predicted Mr. Hussein’s execution in the spring.
When the tribunal’s appeals bench announced that it had upheld the death sentences on Dec. 26, three weeks into the appeal, even prosecutors were stunned. Defense lawyers said Mr. Hussein was being railroaded under pressure from Mr. Maliki, who told a BBC interviewer shortly after the Dujail verdict that he expected the ousted ruler to be hanged before year’s end.
January 7th, 2007  
Team Infidel
The suspicion that the judges had submitted to government pressure was shared by some of Americans working with the tribunal, who had stifled their growing disillusionment with the government’s interference for months. Among a host of other complaints, the Americans’ frustrations focused on the government’s dismissal of two judges seen as too indulgent with Mr. Hussein, and its failure to investigate seriously when three defense lawyers were killed. The appeals court’s apparent eagerness to fast-forward Mr. Hussein to the gallows — and the scenes at the execution itself — was, for some of the Americans, the last straw.
On the Thursday before the hanging, American military officials were summoned. Both Mr. Khalilzad and General Casey were on vacation, so the American team handling negotiations with Mr. Maliki and his officials was headed by Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, head of Task Force 134, the detainee unit, and Margaret Scobey, head of the embassy’s political section.
Iraqi officials said neither carried much weight with Mr. Maliki, who had learned through bruising confrontations to be wary of alienating Mr. Khalilzad and General Casey, both of whom have direct access to President Bush. At the Thursday afternoon meeting, tempers frayed. According to an Iraqi legal expert at the meeting, Iraqi officials demanded that the Americans hand over Mr. Hussein that night, for an execution before dawn on Friday.
General Gardner responded with demands of his own, for letters affirming the legality of the execution from Mr. Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and the chief judge of the high tribunal that convicted Mr. Hussein, the Iraqi legal expert said. The focus was on two issues: a constitutional requirement that Iraq’s three-man presidency council approve all executions, and a Hussein-era law forbidding executions during religious holidays.
Mr. Talabani, a death penalty opponent, refused to sign off on the hanging, but did sign a letter for Mr. Maliki saying he had no objections if the government went ahead. The Iraqis, bolstering their case, said that the Hussein tribunal’s own statute, drafted by the Americans, placed its rulings beyond review. They dismissed the holiday ban on executions, saying Iraq’s death penalty law had been suspended by the Americans in 2003 and that the new Iraqi Parliament, in reviving it in 2004, had not reinstituted the ban.
An Iraqi participant who opposed the hanging said that Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Mr. Maliki’s national security adviser, said angrily, “This is an Iraqi issue,” and added, “Who is going to execute him anyway, you or us?” When the Americans insisted they would not hand over Mr. Hussein without the letters, another Iraqi official exploded: “Just give him to us!”
By Thursday evening, pressures for a quick hanging were growing. Esam al-Gazawi, a Hussein lawyer, said by telephone from Jordan that his legal team had been denied a final visit to Camp Cropper, the American detention center, and that they had been told to send somebody to collect Mr. Hussein’s personal belongings.
Around midnight on Thursday, the meeting broke up, and General Gardner contacted commanders at Camp Cropper to tell them to stand down. By then, the American command had entered what it called its “X-hour sequence,” a 10-hour countdown to the execution that provided a timeline for everything the Americans needed to do to ensure Mr. Hussein’s “secure and dignified” delivery to the execution site.
Negotiations resumed Friday morning. In Phoenix, 10 time zones away, General Casey was monitoring the exchanges in signals traffic from Baghdad. American military officials remained opposed to an immediate hanging, telling Mr. Maliki that beyond the legal issues, there was a question of his government’s need to gain international support by carrying out the hanging in a way that could withstand any criticism.
“We said, ‘You have to do it by international law, you have to do it in accordance with international standards of decorum, you have to establish yourselves as a nation under law,’ ” an American official recounted. When Mr. Maliki said the Americans should respect Iraq’s right to decide matters for itself, American officials said, one of the Americans said: “Forget about us. You’re in front of the international community here. People will be watching this.”
The arguments continued deep into the Iraqi night. General Gardner and Ms. Scobey returned at one point to the former Republican Palace, the American headquarters in the Green Zone, seeking Washington’s advice. Workarounds for the legal problems were discussed.
At 10:30 p.m., Ambassador Khalilzad made a last-ditch call to Mr. Maliki asking him not to proceed with the hanging. When the Iraqi leader remained adamant, an American official said, the ambassador made a second call to Washington conveying “the determination of the Iraqi prime minister to go forward,” and his conclusion that there was nothing more, consistent with respect for Iraqi sovereignty, that the United States could do.
Senior Bush administration officials in Washington said that Mr. Khalilzad’s principal contact in Washington was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and that she gave the green light for Mr. Hussein to be turned over, despite the reservations of the military commanders in Baghdad. One official said that Ms. Rice was supported in that view by Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser.
“It literally came down to the Iraqis interpreting their law, and our looking at their law and interpreting it differently,” the official said. “Finally, it was decided we are not the court of last appeal for Iraqi law here. The president of their country says it meets their procedures. We are not going to be their legal nannies.”
Mr. Khalilzad had suggested that the Iraqis get a written ruling approving the execution from Midhat al-Mahmoud, the chief judge of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council; Mr. Mahmoud refused. Then, the Iraqis played their trump card: a call to high-ranking Shiite clerics in the holy city of Najaf, asking for approval from the marjaiya, the supreme authority in Iraqi Shiism. When his officials reported that they had it, Mr. Maliki signed a letter authorizing the hanging. It was 11:45 p.m.
The Americans suggested that foreign reporters be invited to the hanging, along with United Nations observers. American commanders feared the concern for procedure might be swept away by the urge for revenge. “Anybody who’s been involved in a firefight will tell you there’s a moment when rage takes over,” an American official said. The Iraqis dismissed the idea of outside observers and assembled an execution party of 14 Shiite officials and a Sunni cleric invited to help Mr. Hussein with his prayers.
The ‘X-Hour Sequence’
At Camp Cropper, the X-hour sequence was running for a second night. Helicopters were positioned. Special security measures went into effect along the flight path. The Americans dispatched sniffer dogs along the route of Mr. Hussein’s final steps and into the execution chamber, the only time any American set foot there.
January 7th, 2007  
Team Infidel
Before he left the camp, Mr. Hussein bade farewell to American soldiers who guarded him during the latter stages of his 1,110 days in solitary confinement. There, and again after the helicopter carrying him landed at 5:15 a.m. at Camp Justice, the American military post in the Kadhimiya district of northern Baghdad that encloses the Istikhbarat prison, the former dictator went man to man, thanking each of the Americans for looking after him.
At 5:21 a.m., he was led into the prison, a forbidding, four-story concrete building that once housed the headquarters of Mr. Hussein’s military intelligence agency and now is a base for an Iraqi Army brigade. The Americans took him to a holding room and exchanged papers with the prison governor formalizing the transfer.
“At that point, he was dignified,” Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American command’s chief spokesman, said at a briefing later. “He said farewell to his interpreter. He thanked the military police squad, the lieutenant who was the squad leader, the medical doctor we had present, the American colonel who was on site.” He added, with emphasis, “And then we had absolutely nothing to do with any of the procedures or any of control mechanisms or anything from that point forward.”
At 5:30 a.m., the Iraqis took over. An American official who watched said Mr. Hussein’s demeanor “changed in the Iraqi prison when the Iraqi governor assumed control of him.” Mr. Hussein had long since told his American captors that he trusted them but not the Iraqis.
“He was still dignified, but he was scornful,” the American official said.
Mr. Rubaie, the security adviser, said that when Mr. Hussein stepped into the execution block, an ill-lighted concrete structure behind the main prison building where thousands of hangings took place under Mr. Hussein, he seemed composed.
“He made some joking remarks,” he said. “He said to me, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ as if I was going to be hanged. I didn’t reply, but one of the guards shouted, ‘You did bad things to Iraq.’ And he said, ‘I made this backward country into an advanced and prosperous nation.’ ”
After that, the story is taken up by the illicit cellphone video that has caused an uproar among Iraqi Sunnis and across the world, showing Mr. Hussein erect on the gallows in his black overcoat and gray beard, staring ahead, and answering back, as taunts flowed from Shiites gathered in front of the platform.
Mr. Hussein got halfway through the most sacred of Muslim prayers. “There is no God but God, and Muhammad. ...” The trapdoor clanged open. It was 6:10 a.m.
Securing the Body
Before 7 a.m., helicopters ferried Iraqi officials back to the Green Zone, along with Mr. Hussein’s body. For nearly 17 hours, Mr. Maliki and his officials remained locked in a dispute with Sunni officials and leaders of Mr. Hussein’s Albu Nasir tribe, with Mr. Maliki’s officials refusing to release the body, saying they wanted no shrine to him. Throughout, the body, in a white shroud, remained inside the ambulance in the parking lot behind Mr. Maliki’s office.
For the last time, the Americans intervened, flying a delegation from Tikrit, Mr. Hussein’s hometown, to Baghdad, and returning them 110 miles north again after Mr. Maliki, at nearly midnight, agreed to let the body go.
It was transferred to a pine coffin, loaded onto the open back of a police pickup, and driven back to Landing Zone Washington, the Green Zone helipad.
Upset by events in the execution chamber, and concerned at attracting any fresh anger from Iraqi Sunnis, the Americans ordered their troops not to touch Mr. Hussein’s body after the execution, even as it was loaded and unloaded from their helicopters.
This left Iraqi officials to unload the stretcher carrying the body when the execution party returned to the Green Zone from the prison. Mr. Rubaie, the security adviser, said he helped carry the stretcher bearing the body from the helicopter to a waiting ambulance.
“We weren’t walking, we were jogging” to the ambulance, he said. “This was a chapter we wanted to get done and finished with. We just wanted it to be over.”
Before Hanging, A Push For Revenge And A Push Back
January 8th, 2007  
Lord Londonderry
Is this really your stuff Team Infidel? Can you summarize more and give a brief opinion? Do you know how to do this? Simple point form.
January 8th, 2007  
Team Infidel
Originally Posted by Lord Londonderry
Is this really your stuff Team Infidel? Can you summarize more and give a brief opinion? Do you know how to do this? Simple point form.

Actually, I posted this because I was with TF 134 for the year of the trial. I posted this entire article out of pure interest. Folks on this forum wanted to know what I did for the year I was there.... This is what I did. If you want to blast me, PM me and we can discuss it.
January 8th, 2007  
Lord Londonderry
Now you're overreacting.

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