Hussein could die at Abu Ghraib

November 07, 2006|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader convicted of crimes against humanity, could face the hangman in four or five months inside the notorious Abu Ghraib prison where he sent many of his victims, the lead prosecutor in his case and a top Iraqi legal expert said yesterday.

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Mousawi, who dueled with Hussein during 11 months of grueling courtroom confrontations, estimated that the Iraqi High Tribunal's nine-judge appellate panel would complete its review in about two months. He expressed confidence that the verdict would be upheld.

With the one-month period that the defense and prosecution have to present their cases to the appellate board, and the 30-day limit after the review is complete before the sentence is carried out, Hussein could be executed before the spring.

"The evidence that we offered is clear and varied and will not prolong the appeals," al-Mousawi said.

Hussein and two co-defendants were sentenced to death for crimes against humanity for a campaign of retribution against Shiite Muslim residents of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt there against the president.

A fourth defendant, former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Iraqi law requires that all capital and life imprisonment sentences be automatically reviewed by an appellate court.

Al-Mousawi and Tarek Hareb, the legal expert, said the appellate court would complete its review within three months. Unlike other Iraqi appellate courts, they reasoned, the Iraqi High Tribunal's panel does not have any other cases and can concentrate solely on Dujail.

Unless the court builds a new execution chamber, Hussein probably will be put to death in a special building at the Abu Ghraib complex, site of the country's only gallows, said Hareb, who is also a defense attorney.

"It's a very simple facility," said the lawyer, who watched a client convicted of murder be put to death there in the late 1980s. "There are only chairs and ropes."

The U.S. military recently vacated the site, which was the scene of a prisoner abuse scandal when pictures emerged in 2004 showing Americans menacing and humiliating suspected insurgents held at the huge facility.

Loghman Samarai, an Iraqi judge, said Justice Ministry officials could opt to build another facility to hang Hussein, his half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti and former Revolutionary Court Judge Awad Bandar, all sentenced Sunday to hang, as well as other former regime stalwarts who could be sentenced to die in future verdicts.

"Saddam is an important guy," he said. "Putting him to death requires a special facility with special protection."

Hussein's trial has proved divisive throughout Iraq, with fears of violence breaking out after a two-day vehicle ban was to end at 6 a.m. today.

Demonstrations in support of Hussein took place yesterday in several cities.

Hundreds of Sunni Arab protesters took to the streets in the restive city of Fallujah in Anbar province. "Your name, Saddam, is dignity and awe," read one banner.

Demonstrators in the mostly Shiite town of Hillah held signs in support of the verdict. "Rejoice, you who were oppressed," a poster said.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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