Saddam Ordered to Hang for Deaths in Iraqi Village
Saddam Hussein and two co-defendants were sentenced Sunday to death by hanging for their role in the deaths of 148 villagers from the town of Dujail, where torture and executions followed a failed assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982.
Saddam's half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti (Saddam's former Intelligence chief) and the former Chief Judge of the Baathist Revolutionary Court, Awad al-Bandar were also condemned.
Taha Yassin Ramadan, the former vice-president of Iraq was sentenced to life in prison. Three other Baath officials were sentenced to fifteen years in prison, and another official was acquited of all charges
All eight were tried on charges stemming from a massacre of Shiites from the town of Dujail. When Saddam visited there in 1982 gunmen attempted to assassinate him. In response thousands of men, women, and children were sent to detention camps, huge swathes of farms and groves were destroyed, and 148 men and boys were sentenced to death by Bandar's Revolutionary Court. 46 of those sentenced were tortured to death before they ever reached a courtroom. Some of those sentenced were as young as 11, they were held until they turned 18 and then killed.
Reaction to the verdict and sentencing broke down almost completely along sectarian lines. In Baghdad, mass demonstrations took place in Shiite neighborhoods, with people firing guns into the air and waving banners. But in Sunni areas, pro-Saddam demonstrators took to the streets. All of this despite a curfew banning all vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Elsewhere in the country the pattern repeated itself. In the mainly Shiite southern port city of Basra, and the Shiite holy city of Najaf, demonstrators took to the streets in celebration. But in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and other Sunni cities, including the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, angry demonstrators denounced the sentence.
Politicians were also divided by sect. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a member of the Dawa party that has now claimed to be behind the assassination attempt in Dujail, said, "Here is the day where the dictator, after being captured in his miserable hole, and trying him, and facing the penalty he deserves." Saddam was only getting what he deserved. But a Sunni parliamentarian, Salih al-Mutlaq, predicted the deaths of thousands or tens of thousands because of the decision.
The sentences of Saddam and those of his co-defendants receiving death or life-in-prison will automatically be appealed. A new panel of nine judges will review the verdict, but there is no time limit on their deliberations. However, once they do issue a ruling, the sentences must be carried out within 30 days.
Saddam is currently on trial for the deaths of tens of thousands of Kurds during the so-called Anfal campaign during the late 1980's. And there are at least ten other cases pending. But Saddam may not live to testify in those cases.
The judge spoke chillingly to Saddam today, who had to be forced to stand to hear the verdict. He told him that he would be hanged by the neck until dead. Saddam had asked for a firing squad, seeing it as a more honorable end, but that is only given in military executions.
However, the death sentence against the former Iraqi leader was hailed as a watershed by the Bush administration, which has painted the trial of Saddam as an important step in Iraq's path toward democracy.
"The judiciary is operating independently and we need to give them credit for doing their job and doing it in the way they saw fit and proper," presidential spokesman Tony Snow said, in response to skepticism about the timing of the sentence -- two days before critical U.S. midterm elections.
"The Iraqi judges are the ones who spent all the time poring over the evidence," Snow said. "It's important to give them credit for running their own government."
In Baghdad, a "shaken" Saddam had to be ordered to stand to hear the sentence, reports NPR's Jamie Tarabay. He then tried to interrupt the presiding judge.
"The court decides to sentence Saddam Hussein to death by hanging for committing willful killing as a crime against humanity," the judge intoned.
Saddam shouted: "Long live the people, long live the nation, down with the occupiers, God is great, god is great."
A statement from President Bush is anticipated this afternoon from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Mr. Bush has campaign stops scheduled today in Nebraska and Kansas.
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