Iraqis Line Up To Put Hussein In The Noose

Iraqis Line Up To Put Hussein In The Noose
December 9th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraqis Line Up To Put Hussein In The Noose

Iraqis Line Up To Put Hussein In The Noose
New York Times
December 9, 2006
Pg. 1

By Kirk Semple
BAGHDAD, Dec. 8 — One of the most coveted jobs in Iraq does not yet exist: the executioner for Saddam Hussein. The death sentence against Mr. Hussein is still under review by an appeals court, but hundreds of people have already started lobbying the prime minister’s office for the position.
They have sent messages through cabinet officials and their assistants, and by way of government guards and clerical workers. One candidate, an Iraqi Shiite living in London whose brother was killed by Mr. Hussein, telephoned an aide to the prime minister to say he was prepared to drop everything and fly to Baghdad to execute the former ruler.
“One of the hardest tasks will be to determine who gets to be the hangman because so many people want revenge for the loss of their loved ones,” said Basam Ridha, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Mr. Hussein and two of his top associates, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad al-Bandar, were sentenced to “death by hanging” on Nov. 5 for their involvement in the arrest and killings of 148 men and boys after an assassination attempt against him in the town of Dujail in 1982. The nine-judge appeals bench has no time limit to issue its ruling, but if it upholds the death sentence, Mr. Hussein’s execution must be carried out within 30 days.
Iraqi judicial officials said they expected that the appeals process would be completed in a matter of weeks and, if the sentence is upheld, that Mr. Hussein’s hanging would take place between mid-January and mid-March.
The Shiite-led government has argued for a swift execution, saying that as long as Mr. Hussein is alive, he remains a powerful source of motivation for elements of the Sunni Arab insurgency fighting to restore him to power.
There are other critical issues the government will need to decide should the appeals court uphold the death sentence against Mr. Hussein, including where he will be executed.
Officials have considered staging a public hanging in Baghdad’s largest sports arena, Shaab Stadium, and filling the place with tens of thousands of spectators, according to a high-ranking government official involved in the executions process, who agreed to discuss the subject on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about it on the record.
But while such a spectacle might satisfy a communal need for closure, the authorities have rejected the idea for security reasons. A target that big, they say, would be highly vulnerable to attack by Sunni insurgents who might try to lob a few mortar shells into the crowd or ambush spectators on their way to and from the event.
Government hangings are now conducted in a prison complex in eastern Baghdad. Mr. Hussein, who is being held at Camp Cropper, an American military prison near Baghdad International Airport, could be transported to those gallows by helicopter. But officials worry that the trip would present an unnecessary opportunity for a rescue attempt by his sympathizers.
Most likely, officials say, Mr. Hussein will be hanged at gallows specially built for him at Camp Cropper.
The death penalty in Iraq, which applies to a range of crimes including terrorism and certain categories of murder, was suspended in 2003 by the American occupation authorities but reinstated in August 2004. Since then, 51 people — men and several women — have been hanged and about 170 are currently on death row awaiting execution or the outcome of their appeal, according to Hashim al-Shibli, Iraq’s justice minister.
Those are the official numbers. The high-ranking government official involved in the executions process said the actual number of hangings was far higher, though fewer than 100, because of three sets of hangings that took place between December 2005 and March 2006 and were never publicized.
Human rights groups have questioned the transparency of the criminal justice system in Iraq and the ability of defendants to get a fair trial. And the United Nations has requested that the Iraqi government commute the sentences of all the prisoners on Iraq’s death row. But Iraqi leaders have rebuffed calls for the abolishment of the death penalty, arguing that it serves as a deterrent to crimes.
“Maliki wants to show decisiveness that people should be punished,” said Mr. Ridha, Mr. Maliki’s adviser. “He is very anxious that these executions take place in a timely manner.” He added, “The number of executions that have taken place is not a great number compared to the number of insurgents in the country.”
The gallows are in a concrete building within a heavily guarded prison complex in eastern Baghdad, near the headquarters of the Interior Ministry. Two scaffolds made of steel sit side by side in an otherwise unadorned room, according to the high-ranking government official, who has attended hangings there. (The Justice Ministry and the Maliki administration denied requests to visit the prison and, citing security concerns, refused to give the precise location of the site.)
The government prefers to conduct several hangings in a day for the sake of efficiency. Men condemned to death are held on Iraq’s death row — a wing of rudimentary cells, separated from other inmates in the prison compound. Condemned women are held at a women’s prison in Khadamiya, a neighborhood in northern Baghdad.
The prisoners are told they will be hanged on the morning of their executions, officials said. They are led out of their cells in single file, dressed in orange jumpsuits, their ankles and wrists manacled, and taken to a room off the gallows chambers, where they are allowed to sit on floor cushions. There, they are permitted to pray. They can eat a last meal if they request it, or smoke a cigarette. They are given an opportunity to compose a last will and testament. Then, two by two and hooded, they are taken to the gallows.
The victims are led up a set of steel stairs to a platform, about 15 feet above the ground, and nooses fashioned from one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick hemp ropes are slipped over their necks. The executioners are different each time, drawn from among employees of the Justice Ministry who volunteer for the job. Many have lost relatives or friends in insurgent attacks, officials said.
With a tug of two large levers, the steel trapdoors drop open and the victims fall through. The doors make a loud clanging sound as they slam against the apparatus, according to people who have witnessed hangings. The jarring noise echoes off the cold, unadorned concrete walls.
Death is supposed to come instantly — a doctor is on hand to certify it — and the bodies are removed to a cooler where they are held before being handed over to the victims’ families. The entire process is recorded by a photographer and a video cameraman and the images are stored in a government archive.
But the hangings have not always gone smoothly.
Until the new gallows were built, the Iraqi government used an apparatus and an old rope left over from Mr. Hussein’s government, said the high-ranking government official. The rope had become so elastic that it would sometimes take as much as eight minutes to kill the convicted person.
On Sept. 6, the Iraqi authorities planned to hang 27 people. On the 13th hanging, according to an official who was there, the rope snapped and the convicted man plummeted 15 feet through the trap door onto the concrete floor. “God saved me!” the man cried. “God is great! I did not deserve this!” For an hour, he lay on the ground praying and shouting while prison guards and the executioner debated whether this constituted divine intervention and, if so, whether the man’s life should be spared. Once a new rope was rigged, however, the man was forced up the stairs once again and successfully hanged. The incident was first reported in Time magazine of Nov. 20.
The executions are conducted in secrecy to avert insurgent attacks. On March 9, a government convoy carrying a representative from the administration of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was ambushed on its way to the gallows. It was an unsuccessful effort to stop the representative from observing the day’s hangings, including the execution of Shukair Farid, a murderous former police officer whom the government had nicknamed “the butcher of Mosul.”
On another execution day, word leaked out and insurgents pelted the prison facility with mortar shells. The Iraqi subcontractors who built the new gallows, under the auspices of an American contractor, were forced to interrupt work several times because of threats by insurgents, officials said.
The current hanging procedures are an improvement over the methods used by Mr. Hussein, who conducted mass executions in a hangarlike building at Abu Ghraib prison. According to human rights groups, hundreds of prisoners were executed in a span of a few weeks in the 1990s to address prison overcrowding.
Mr. Hussein himself asked the court to execute him by firing squad, the method used for soldiers sentenced to death. He said it was his right because he was commander in chief of Iraq’s armed forces at the time of the events in Dujail. His request was denied.
The protocols for his hanging have not yet been determined, including who will get to attend, Maliki administration officials said. In a standard Iraqi hanging, the attendance is limited to representatives from the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the prime minister’s office, and a doctor. Mr. Shibli, the justice minister, said the convict’s lawyer was allowed to attend, as well as a member of the clergy of the victim’s choice, though in practice they rarely do.
The usual videographer and photographer will probably be on hand, as well, to record the hanging, officials said, and excerpts of the event may be shown later on national television. Mr. Ridha says the Iraqi people will want to see it.
Abdul Razzaq al-Saeidi contributed reporting.

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