Death by Hanging

I think the death penalty is something that I have to think more about.  I’m really not certain what my viewpoint is on the subject yet.

I mention it because it was announced today (or yesterday depending on where you live) that Saddam Hussein has been found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.  What will this look like from the perspective of 50 years, I wonder.   Here follows the entire New York Times article:

November 5, 2006

Saddam Hussein Is Sentenced to Death

BAGHDAD, Nov. 5 — An Iraqi special tribunal today convicted Saddam Hussein of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death by hanging for the brutal repression of a Shiite town in the 1980’s.

As the chief judge read aloud the verdict, a defiant Mr. Hussein shouted, “Long live the people! Long live the Arab nation! Down with the spies!” He thrust his finger emphatically into the air as he spoke, then repeatedly chanted, “God is great!”

The judge, Raouf Rasheed Abdul Rahman, tried to calm Mr. Hussein down. “There’s no point,” Mr. Rahman told him.

The verdict, under Iraqi law, will immediately be submitted to an appellate court, which will begin its review within a month, officials said.

Still, today’s verdict represented a moment of triumph and catharsis for many Iraqis after decades of suffering under Mr. Hussein’s tyrannical rule.

Spontaneous celebrations broke out across Iraq in spite of an around-the-clock curfew imposed on the capital and other regions. People fired pistols and assault rifles into the air in a common gesture of jubilation. Residents of Sadr City, a Shiite bastion in northeastern Baghdad, flooded the streets in defiance of a curfew, whooping and dancing and sounding car horns. Even some Shiite police officers joined in the revelry, firing their weapons in the air.

“I feel happy,” said a 31-year-old Shiite shop owner, who was smoking apple-flavored tobacco on the sidewalk in Karrada, a well-to-do neighborhood in central Baghdad. “I think he got his punishment. There was no Iraqi house that didn’t have damage because of Saddam Hussein.”

But a darker mood settled over predominantly Sunni Arab areas. Immediately following the verdicts, fighting broke out between gunmen and the Iraqi Army in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya in northeastern Baghdad, according to an Interior Ministry official. American forces swarmed the district, however, suppressing the violence, the official said.

In the Sunni Arab city of Samarra, a stronghold of support for the Sunni-led insurgency, hundreds of demonstrators marched through the streets in violation of the curfew. They carried photographs of Mr. Hussein, who was born in the same region, and fired guns in the air in anger.

“The ground will be burned,” they chanted. They were escorted by Iraqi police officers, who provided some of the demonstrators with rides through the city, witnesses said.

Iraqi and American security forces had been bracing for a violent reaction among Mr. Hussein’s armed supporters, who constitute a significant corps within the insurgency. A ban on cars and pedestrians was imposed in the capital and other areas, Iraq’s security forces were put on high alert and American jet fighters circled high above the capital throughout the day today.

In a nationally televised address following the verdict, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said Mr. Hussein “is facing the punishment he deserves.”

“His sentence does not represent anything because executing him is not worth the blood he spilled,” he said. “But it may bring some comfort to the families of the martyrs.”

In recent days, Mr. Maliki publicly expressed his hope that Mr. Hussein would receive the death sentence, saying it would help to dissipate the insurgency.

The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, hailed the verdict as “an important milestone in the building of a free society” in Iraq.

“Although the Iraqis may face difficult days in the coming weeks, closing the book on Saddam and his regime is an opportunity to unite and build a better future,” he said in a statement.

The long-awaited verdict today came nearly three years after Mr. Hussein was hauled from an underground hideaway by American troops and more than a year after he and seven co-defendants first appeared in an Iraqi court to face charges of orchestrating what the prosecution called a “widespread and systematic persecution” of the townspeople of Dujail, 35 miles north of Baghdad.

The case centered on the execution of 148 men and boys from the town after a purported assassination attempt against Mr. Hussein by men firing from a nearby orchard on July 8, 1982. Mr. Hussein’s lawyers contended at the trial that the would-be assassins were Iranian-backed Shiite militants, and that he was justified in ordering the crackdown on the town because Iraq was at war with Iran at the time.

In the Dujail case, Mr. Hussein faced multiple charges for his involvement in the crimes. He was sentenced to the death penalty for willful killings, 10 years for forcible deportation and 10 years for torture.

The five-judge tribunal also issued death sentences for two of his seven co-defendants: Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Mr. Hussein’s half-brother, who was head of Iraq’s domestic intelligence agency; and Awad al-Bandar, president of Mr. Hussein’s revolutionary court. Taha Yassin Ramadan, a former vice president under Mr. Hussein, was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the crimes.

Mr. Barzan and Mr. Ramadan were also convicted and sentenced for enforced deportation and torture. Mr. Ramadan was given an additional sentence for “other inhumane acts.”

Three local Baath Party officials — Abdullah Kadhim Ruweid, his son Mizher Abdullah Ruweid and Ali Dayeh Ali — were sentenced to 15 years of prison for willful murder and seven years for torture, although the sentences will run concurrently. Another defendant and minor Baath party official, Mohammed Azawi Ali, was acquitted for insufficient evidence. Prosecutors had argued for lesser sentences for those officials.

Several of the defendants, including Mr. Hussein, were found not guilty for lack of evidence on counts of enforced disappearances.

Like the verdicts and sentence against Mr. Hussein, the verdicts and sentences against Mr. Tikriti, Mr. Bandar and Mr. Ramadan will all come under review by the nine-judge appellate chamber of the trial court. There is no time limit for the appeal court’s review, but Iraqi and American officials who work with the court said that the earliest realistic date for Mr. Hussein’s execution, assuming it stood up to review, would be next spring.

The court has been under growing political pressure from Mr. Maliki and other Shiite officials, who believe an execution sooner rather than later would help to suppress elements of the insurgency that have held out for a return of Mr. Hussein to power.

Mr. Hussein, along with six other defendants, is also being tried in a separate case in which they face charges of killing at least 50,000 people in the so-called Anfal military campaign in 1987 and 1988 in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Prosecutors are preparing numerous other cases against Mr. Hussein, and the tribunal may decide to try him on some or all of the additional charges if it wants to create a full record of the former leader’s crimes.

But Jaafar al-Mousawi, chief prosecutor in the Dujail case, noted at a briefing after today’s verdict that nothing in Iraqi law prevents the execution of a defendant in an ongoing trial. He said that if Mr. Hussein was executed before the end of the Anfal trial, which is expected next summer, it would be a simple procedural matter to strike his name from the list of defendants.

Today’s court session unfolded in about 50 minutes, with the defendants brought into the courtroom one at a time to listen to their verdicts.

Mr. Hussein was led in at about noon local time wearing his customary trial attire: a charcoal-colored suit and white shirt. He began shouting almost immediately.

“I’ll listen to the judgment, but I won’t stand up,” he declared. The judge ordered him to stand up and sent bailiffs into the defendants’ dock to force Mr. Hussein to his feet. As the bailiffs took him by the arms, he yanked himself free and snarled at one of them: “You stupid! Don’t twist my arm!”

The judge launched into a rapid-paced monologue, summarizing the verdicts against Mr. Hussein, who started shouting: “Long live the people! Long live the Arab nation! Down with the spies!” As the judge outlined the Iraqi criminal code and court statutes under which the death sentence would be applied, Mr. Hussein yelled, “To hell with you and your court!”

“You don’t decide!” he continued. “You are servants of the occupiers and their followers. You are puppets.”

When the judge concluded the sentencing, he ordered the bailiffs to “take him out.” The bailiffs grabbed Mr. Hussein by both arms and led him 25 paces to the exit. As Mr. Hussein left the room, he shouted, “Long live the Kurds! Long live the Arabs!”

Some international legal experts and human rights have questioned the impartiality of the trial court, which was created to try top leaders of the ousted government during the 15-month period of formal American occupation following the invasion in the spring of 2003.

“We saw this trial, along with the others, as an opportunity to bring justice to those Iraqis who had suffered horribly under Baath Party rule,” Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement today. “Unfortunately, we believe the serious shortcomings in the fairness of the proceedings undermined the legitimacy and credibility of the trial.”

Mr. Dicker said the proceedings were marred by “some disturbing court practices,” including, he said, the court’s failure to deliver documents to the defense in a timely manner; public criticism by government minister of the first presiding judge, Rizgar Amin, who resigned in protest in January 2006; and the failure of Mr. Amin’s replacement, Mr. Rahman, “to demonstrate proper judicial demeanor in his management of the proceedings.”

The trial was marked by delays, violence and courtroom histrionics.

Mr. Hussein demonstrated a formidable reluctance to acquiesce to the will or conventions of the tribunal, frequently erupting into tirades in court, issuing written denunciations of the tribunal as an American-orchestrated farce and staging hunger strikes in his cell in an American military detention center near Baghdad International Airport.

During the course of the trial, three defense lawyers were killed by gunmen and the original chief judge resigned in protest over governmental interference.

Many Sunni Arabs today criticized the verdicts as the product of a political charade designed to satisfy the political agendas of the Shiite-led Iraqi government and the Bush administration.

The country’s biggest Sunni Arab party suggested in a statement that the government was using the trial and sentencing of Mr. Hussein for political purposes “to distract people from the daily tragedy that they suffer.”

The group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the Maliki administration should be more concerned with stopping the current bloodshed and misery afflicting Iraq than to execute Mr. Hussein. “Don’t these events need a trial for those who committed them?” the statement asked, in a pointed suggestion that the ruling Shiites were at least partly to blame.

Even among Mr. Hussein’s detractors and enemies, the euphoria that greeted the verdicts was not unequivocal. A 70-year-old Shiite woman from the Palestine Street neighborhood of eastern Baghdad said the worsening security situation in Iraq robbed her of any feeling of celebration. “The happiness is gone because we are not comfortable now,” she complained.

Anticipating civil unrest, authorities increased the police and military presence at checkpoints throughout the capital and other cities this weekend and recalled all Iraqi troops and police officers from leave and put them on standby.

Mr. Hussein’s advocates, including his chief defense lawyer, had warned that a guilty verdict for Mr. Hussein would set off widespread attacks by his supporters, who constitute a corps of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency. On Saturday, the government imposed a curfew on all vehicles and pedestrians in Baghdad; in the provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala, bastions of the Sunni Arab insurgency; and in the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.

Mr. Hussein’s chief defense counsel, Khalil al-Dulaimi, warned last week that if the former dictator were found guilty, “The doors of hell will open in Iraq, the sectarian divide in the country will deepen, and many more coffins will be sent back to America.”

But the curfew order appeared to be blatantly ignored in some areas with the tacit consent of Iraq’s security forces.

This morning, in spite of the curfew, thousands of people held a demonstration in support of Mr. Hussein in the streets of Dur, a town in the predominantly Sunni Arab province of Salahuddin, Mr. Hussein’s birthplace. They demanded the immediate release of Mr. Hussein and warned that a guilty verdict could have violent consequences. They carried photos of Mr. Hussein mounted on poster board and fired guns into the air.

Iraqi security forces were present but simply looked on, witnesses said.

Meanwhile, a demonstration of Mr. Hussein’s opponents took place in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, which was not placed under a curfew.

The American military announced today that an American soldier was killed Saturday afternoon when gunmen attacked a military patrol with small arms fire in western Baghdad. A marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 in Anbar province died Saturday from “nonhostile causes,” the military said. At least 14 American troops have died in Iraq this month.

Reporting was contributed by Khalid al-Ansary, John F. Burns, Qais Mizher, Sahar Nageeb, Sabrina Tavernise and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times.

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