Saved From The Noose--For Now

Saved From The Noose--For Now
October 19th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Saved From The Noose--For Now

Saved From The Noose--For Now
October 29, 2007 A condemned Iraqi who may have saved American lives gets a reprieve from the hangman. But with his own people demanding his death, can the U.S. save Sultan Hashem?
By Adam Zagorin and Brian Bennett
On the night of Sept. 10, general Sultan Hashem Ahmed was prepared to die. He had written his will and left instructions about where his body should be buried. All that remained was to wait for his appointment with the hangman. At the gallows, there was extra security to thwart any rescue attempt, a senior Iraqi official tells TIME. After all, Hashem was no ordinary criminal. Saddam Hussein's last Defense Minister had been condemned to death by an Iraqi court for his role in the slaughter of thousands of Kurds. Like his former boss before him, Hashem was held in Camp Cropper, a U.S. military base on the outskirts of Baghdad, and would have to be flown to his execution by U.S. military helicopter. The Iraqi government planned to hang Hashem at 3 a.m. on the anniversary of 9/11. A speech had been written for the occasion, to be delivered by an Iraqi spokesman, noting parallels between the acts of terrorism committed by Hashem under Saddam and the attacks in the U.S. six years earlier. Then at 10 p.m., the Iraqi officials at the gallows received word that the helicopter was not coming. Hashem's life was spared--for the moment.
The execution had never been announced, so its cancellation went unnoticed by the wider world. But Iraqi officials have told TIME the reason Hashem never made it to the gallows that night: his U.S. military captors refused to hand him over. According to an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Americans' explanation was that key Iraqi leaders did not want the execution carried out. President Jalal Talabani, for instance, was opposed to the death sentence on principle. But Iraqi officials accused the U.S. of shielding Hashem for an entirely different reason: the general had been a U.S. collaborator. American officials familiar with Hashem's role say he had been in secret contact with U.S. intelligence before the invasion of Iraq and had helped shorten the war by minimizing the Iraqi army's resistance to American forces. "We called him on the phone and said, Look, we will kill your units if you don't do x," a former senior officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) told TIME. "Then he went and got the commanders to not fight, which saved American lives."
Hashem's motivation may have been to save the lives of his own troops, who stood little chance against U.S. military might. And it was not his first contact with the Americans. In 1991 he negotiated a cease-fire with General Norman Schwarzkopf at the end of the first Gulf War. (Schwarzkopf would later say he was "suckered" by Hashem, who persuaded him to permit Iraq the use of helicopters later deployed by Saddam to kill thousands of rebellious Shi'ites.) Hashem rose to chief of staff of the Iraqi army and then Defense Minister. He remained popular with his troops, who admired his military bearing and plainspokenness. In April 2003, when Saddam's propaganda was still claiming military successes against the invaders, it was Hashem who announced publicly that U.S. forces were poised to enter Baghdad.
Following the invasion, he began negotiating his surrender with General David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq. Petraeus guaranteed Hashem's safety and medical treatment, and wrote a letter extolling his "reputation as a man of honor and integrity ... known throughout this country." Most important, Petraeus pledged to Hashem his "word that you will be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, and that you will not be physically or mentally mistreated while under my custody." Petraeus personally accepted Hashem's surrender in September 2003 and made his aircraft available so the former Iraqi Defense Minister could fly in comfort to Baghdad, where he was taken into custody. But Hashem was soon released and returned to live freely with his family in the northern city of Mosul. In June 2004, however, Hashem was taken into custody by the Iraqi government and put on trial for his role in the Anfal, Saddam's 1988 crackdown on Kurdish rebels that left thousands dead and included the notorious chemical-weapons attack on the town of Halabja. In June 2007, Hashem was sentenced to death, along with Ali Hassan Majid, known as "Chemical Ali."
The sentence left U.S. officials with a dilemma. Should they refuse to hand over a lawfully convicted prisoner and invite a confrontation with the Iraqi government, or should they deliver to the gallows a man who had risked his life to assist the U.S.? "We have certain principles," says the DIA official. "When people help us, we really, really do try to go out of our way to keep promises." That sentiment may have won Hashem a reprieve, but it could prove temporary. A spokesman for Petraeus says the pledges made in 2003 don't apply to the current situation. "There was no intimation of any further guarantees while in General Petraeus' custody," he says. "He has been convicted by an Iraqi court, and if they request it, we will hand him over." Iraqi officials argue that if Hashem doesn't hang, other war criminals may get away with their crimes. They insist that if Iraq is to move toward democracy after decades of dictatorship, the independence of its courts and the sentences those courts hand down must be upheld without the kind of interference they say is blocking Hashem's execution. With Iraq's high tribunal determined to carry out his sentence, Hashem's fate rests on the extent of U.S. determination to keep him from the noose. Ultimately, says one of Hashem's lawyers, "only the Americans can save him."
With reporting by Mazin Ezzat/Baghdad

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