Death sentence of Hussein upheld

Execution for 1982 mass killings must be carried out within 30 days, court says

December 27, 2006|By Alexandra Zavis and Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Alexandra Zavis and Molly Hennessy-Fiske,LOs Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's date with the executioner could come any day, after an appeals court upheld the deposed Iraqi leader's death sentence yesterday, saying he must hang for ordering mass slayings in a Shiite Muslim town in 1982.

The decision, announced at a hastily convened news conference in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, could fan surging bloodshed between Iraq's ascendant Shiite Muslim majority and a disaffected Sunni Arab minority that had long been favored under Hussein. Government and security officials said they were bracing for more violence when the sentence is carried out but insisted that any surge would be short-lived.

Aref Shahin, chief judge of the appeals panel, said there was no further legal recourse for Hussein, and the Iraqi executive is free to send him to the gallows "any day starting from tomorrow." The execution must be carried out within 30 days.

President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies have to sign off on the execution order. Talabani, a Kurd, opposes the death penalty but has in previous cases deputized a vice president to sign on his behalf.

The Iraqi High Tribunal had handed down death sentences against Hussein and two co-defendants Nov. 5 for orchestrating an attack on the Shiite town of Dujail after a failed assassination plot against him. Hundreds were detained, tortured and forced out of their homes; more than 100 men and boys were executed after a summary trial.

Under Iraqi law, the verdicts and sentences automatically went for review before a nine-judge appeals chamber.

The White House called the appeals court ruling a milestone in efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law. "Saddam Hussein has received due process and legal rights that he denied the Iraqi people for so long," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

But legal experts said the verdict came too soon, just three weeks after defense attorneys filed lengthy appeals on Hussein's behalf, reinforcing claims that the trial was politically tainted.

Some Kurds had also hoped for a delay so Hussein can finish standing trial for a separate 1980s military campaign against the ethnic minority that prosecutors have described as genocide.

"It is not acceptable to finish everything with the Dujail case and leave 180,000 victims with no trial," said Vian Dizayee, a member of the Kurdish parliament in the northern city of Irbil. Baghdad lawyer Hibba Mansouri predicted government leaders would not postpone Hussein's execution for the sake of the Kurdish trial.

Four other defendants received prison terms ranging from 15 years to life, and one was acquitted at the prosecution's request.

Tribunal spokesman Raed Juhi said the panel deliberated for three days before deciding to uphold the death sentences against Hussein, his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim and intelligence chief Awad Hamed Bandar.

The judges also concluded that the life sentence against former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was too lenient and referred his case back to the tribunal for the death penalty. They did not alter the lesser sentences.

When the decision was announced on national television, victims' families in Dujail burst into tears and ululations, saying justice would finally be served and calling for a swift execution.

But residents in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit seethed, dismissing the trial as political theater staged by the U.S. and its Shiite allies in government.

"Implementing the verdict is like driving ... Iraq into hell," said Ismail Mohammed, a 48-year-old teacher. "It is an American verdict and has nothing to do with the will of the Iraqis."

The announcement, which came as dusk fell, did not provoke any immediate outbursts, but tension was high in some predominantly Sunni areas.

"A lot of blood will follow as consequence of this political verdict," warned Osama Mohammed, a 19-year-old college student in Ramadi, a center of the Sunni-driven insurgency west of Baghdad.

But the decision delighted Shiites, who were brutally repressed under Hussein.

"We wish to see Saddam hanged on our TV screens," said Sattar Jabar, a 32-year-old contract worker in the southern city of Basra.

In Dujail, neighbors passed out candy and soft drinks, celebrating on the side streets without the usual gunfire, said Maj. Gen. Nabil Darwash, police chief in nearby Balad. Darwash said he believed carrying out the sentence would ultimately help restore stability across the country.

Alexandra Zavis and Molly Hennessy-Fiske write for the Los Angeles Times.

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