Court Sentences Saddam to Death by Hanging

Saddam Hussein yells at the court as he receives his death sentence.

hide captionSaddam Hussein yells at the court as he receives his death sentence.

David Furst/AFP/Getty Images

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and two of his most senior former aides have been sentenced to death by hanging. Saddam was on trial for crimes against humanity in the massacre of 148 Shiites after a failed assassination attempt against him in 1982.

The news of the verdict set off protests and celebrations, showing just how deeply divided Iraqis have become since Saddam was ousted from power more than three years ago.

When Chief Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman read the words "hanged until dead," Saddam cried out, "Long live the people, long live the nation, down with the invaders, God is great, God is great."

The trial was broadcast on Iraqi state television on a 20-minute delay, but word quickly spread. When the announcement reached Iraqi homes and streets, the reaction was immediate. In some neighborhoods, celebratory gunfire broke out.

In Baghdad the Shiites defied a curfew and danced in the streets of Kadhmiya and Sadr City, home to millions of Shiites oppressed during Saddam's rule. It was a victory for Shiites everywhere, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who could not hide his satisfaction at the outcome of the trial.

"Here is the day where the dictator, after being captured in his miserable hole and trying him, faces the penalty he deserves," Maliki said.

Maliki said the death sentence fell not just on Saddam, but on his entire rule. He said it represented justice for everyone who suffered under Saddam.

"It might give some solace and wipe the tears of the widows and orphans who were prohibited from even having funerals, and were ordered to bury their loved ones in secret, and suppress their woes and emotions," Maliki said.

Maliki warned Iraqis still loyal to Saddam that his era was over. He said the sentence was a lesson to all criminals and terrorists they will be punished in court one day.

The verdict angered Sunni supporters in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. They staged a protest and carried posters of Saddam, swearing to die for him. In Baghdad, clashes erupted in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, where Sunni gunmen fought Iraqi army and U.S. forces. Sunni lawmaker Salih al-Mutlaq claimed that the verdict was politically motivated, and told Arab television it would only push Iraq's ethnic communities further apart.

"The responsibility of the lives of hundreds, no thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of Iraqis will be on the political ruling class of this country," Mutlaq said.

The court also handed down death sentences to Saddam's half brother Barzan al Tikriti, and Awad al Bandar, the former head of the revolutionary court. Former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life imprisonment. Three other defendants received 15-year sentences, and the lowest-ranked official of the eight was acquitted.

There's an automatic appeal for the death sentences and life term. It's not certain how long that will take.

Most Iraqis, though, considered the decision final.

And if anyone had forgotten Saddam's crimes, state television showed footage of the mass graves and blindfolded people about to be executed.

In a broadcast from Sadr City, people danced in the street and chanted "Give him to us, we'll execute him."

Saddam Ordered to Hang for Deaths in Iraqi Village

Saddam yells at the court as he receives his sentence. i i

hide captionSaddam yells at the court as he receives his sentence.

Scott Nelson/AFP/Getty Images
Saddam yells at the court as he receives his sentence.

Saddam yells at the court as he receives his sentence.

Scott Nelson/AFP/Getty Images

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An Iraqi man celebrates the guilty verdict in Najaf. i i

hide captionAn Iraqi man in Najaf carries a picture of the leader of the Supreme council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq party, Shiite cleric Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, as he celebrates the guilty verdict.

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An Iraqi man celebrates the guilty verdict in Najaf.

An Iraqi man in Najaf carries a picture of the leader of the Supreme council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq party, Shiite cleric Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, as he celebrates the guilty verdict.

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Former Baath party official Abdullah Kadhem Ruweid reacts after being sentenced to 15 years. i i

hide captionFormer Baath party official Abdullah Kadhem Ruweid reacts after being sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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Former Baath party official Abdullah Kadhem Ruweid reacts after being sentenced to 15 years.

Former Baath party official Abdullah Kadhem Ruweid reacts after being sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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A boy in Tikrit carries a portrait of Saddam. i i

hide captionAn Iraqi boy in ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit carries a portrait of the former leader with the words, "Saddam Hussein, son of Tikrit, you hero, we love you."

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A boy in Tikrit carries a portrait of Saddam.

An Iraqi boy in ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit carries a portrait of the former leader with the words, "Saddam Hussein, son of Tikrit, you hero, we love you."

Dia Hamid/AFP/Getty Images

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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