Iraq Death Penalty Raises Concerns

April 21st, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraq Death Penalty Raises Concerns

Los Angeles Times
April 21, 2007
Amnesty report warns of greater brutalization as government executes more criminals, some after rushed trials.
By Tina Susman, Times Staff Writer
BAGHDAD The trial of Mohammed Munaf on charges of kidnapping three Romanian journalists in 2005 lasted about an hour, his lawyer said. And even though no witnesses testified, he said, the Iraqi-born U.S. citizen was sentenced to hang.
Munaf's case is under appeal and he has not been executed, but Amnesty International said Friday that about 100 convicts had been hanged since Iraq reinstated the death penalty three years ago, including many whose cases were rushed through the system without due process.
The London-based human rights group said the trend could lead to further brutalization of the war-torn nation, but the Iraqi government asserted that the executions were the best way to send the message that it was serious about ending violence.
"We're just shy of 100" hangings, said Bassam Ridha, a legal advisor to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. "That's nothing compared to what these insurgents are doing to the Iraqi people."
On one day in February, 14 people were hanged across the country for crimes such as terrorism, murder and rape, Ridha said. Each day, he said, Iraqi citizens call his office to demand more executions, telling him that if the government executed more people, there might be more stability in Iraq.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died in shootings, bombings, mortar attacks and other violence linked to sectarian warfare since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. A U.S.-Iraqi security plan launched in mid-February has put thousands of additional troops on the ground, but the bloodshed continues.
Attackers are finding ways to evade the checkpoints and searches that have become a feature of daily life here. On Friday, they attached a bomb to a bicycle in an open-air bicycle market in Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. At least one person was killed and three people were wounded in the blast. Salman Pak is a mixed town, with a slight Shiite Muslim majority. In Baghdad, two people died in separate mortar attacks.
In southwest Baghdad, shooting broke out around a Shiite mosque as people arrived for prayers, and at least two people died. There were conflicting accounts of the incident.
In a statement, the U.S. military said American troops on patrol came under fire from the direction of the mosque. During the ensuing shootout, with U.S. helicopters providing cover, two suspected insurgents were killed, the military said.
But a Shiite cleric, Sheik Suhail Uqabi, delivered a sermon in Sadr City in which he accused troops of killing at least three worshipers in the incident.
The U.S. military announced the death of a Marine in an attack overnight south of Baghdad. The Marine died when a rocket was fired into a military base in Mahmoudiya, a statement said. At least 3,316 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq theater since the March 2003 invasion, according to the website, which monitors the military casualties.
Unfair trials alleged
Executions were common during Saddam Hussein's 34-year regime, but the death penalty was suspended after his fall in 2003. It was reinstated by the new Iraqi government in August 2004, and more than 270 people have been sentenced to death since, Amnesty International says.
The 51-page Amnesty report says that in 2006 alone, 65 people, including two women, were hanged in Iraq. That figure was surpassed only by China, Iran and Pakistan. The numbers are especially troubling given Iraq's population of about 27 million compared with the other countries, which have tens of millions more people, said Carsten Jurgensen, one of the researchers.
The report says some executions, including that of a former aide to Hussein, were carried out despite international observers' concerns that the cases had been mishandled or rushed through the system.
"We fear that because people have been sentenced to death after unfair trials, the return to the death penalty will lead to further brutalization of society," Jurgensen said.
The numbers were based on figures compiled from lawyers, court records and media reports. The Amnesty study focused on several cases, including that of Munaf, who was arrested in connection with the Romanian journalists' abduction after their release in May 2005.
Prosecutors accused Munaf, who had been working with the journalists, of involvement in their abduction and said he had confessed to the crime. His lawyer, Badee Arif Izzat, said the so-called confession was made after Munaf and several codefendants were tortured.
When the three-judge panel announced the death sentence, he said, the accused tore off their shirts to show marks they said were from beatings.
"The trial took about one hour," Izzat said, adding that none of the Romanians was there to testify. "The court took 11 minutes to deliver the sentence."
On April 6, a federal appeals court in Washington rejected Munaf's appeal to have the United States intervene in his case, saying U.S. courts had no jurisdiction. The case continues to wind its way through the appellate process in Iraq, a system that Ridha, the prime minister's advisor, says guarantees a fair outcome for defendants.
"We have a judicial process, and it is a very lengthy one," he said, adding that some of the 14 prisoners hanged Feb. 11 had been convicted two years earlier. "It does not happen in an hour."
But Amnesty and Iraqi defense lawyers said they were concerned that the polarization in Iraq was leading to a court system more interested in exacting revenge than ensuring that every defendant receives a fair trial.
'We're new to this'
Most hangings have received little attention. Ironically, it was Hussein's execution in December after his mass murder conviction that first cast negative attention on the government's use of the death penalty.
A witness to the execution, who was not identified, used a cellphone to record the hanging. The footage, which landed on the Internet, showed the ex-leader being taunted as he was led to the gallows.
The government was embarrassed again in January when Hussein's half brother and former intelligence chief, Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, a codefendant in the murder trial, was accidentally decapitated while being hanged.
Ridha blamed those problems on the government's inexperience with the gallows.
"We are not in the custom of doing this, unlike Saddam and his vicious regime," he said. "We're new to this."
Last month, international human rights groups objected to the execution of Hussein's former vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan. Ramadan was convicted in the same case, which centered on the killings of 148 men and boys from a small Shiite town in the 1980s after an assassination attempt against Hussein.
Amnesty International and other groups said witnesses failed to directly link Ramadan to the killings and that his conviction was politically motivated.
A special correspondent in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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