Saddam's Half-Brother, Top Aide Executed

Saddam Hussein's half-brother and the former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court are hanged before dawn for crimes against humanity. Sunni Muslims are denouncing the executions, which come two weeks after Saddam's chaotic and widely condemned hanging.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Not long after the president spoke with CBS, Iraq carried out two more executions. The men were hanged before dawn today. One was Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam's half-brother and intelligence chief. The other was a judge under Saddam.

The report that's going to follow here lasts a little more than three minutes, and we should warn you that some people will find it extremely disturbing, because Iraqi officials showed a videotape of the executions to reporters, including NPR's Jamie Tarabay.

And Jamie, what did you see?

JAMIE TARABAY: We witnessed the very, very quick hanging of both men. We - both Awad al-Bandar and Barzan al-Tikriti, they were standing next to each other. Both were wearing orange jumpsuits. And they placed the black hoods over the heads of both men. It was a silent video, so there was no way - we couldn't hear anything, but we were told that Awad al-Bandar was actually chanting his final prayers. And then the trap door gave way and both of the men fell through the trap door.

And we actually saw a quite gruesome detail here. Barzan's body separated. The head came off and the body fell to the floor. And then the camera went in through the trap door and we saw Awad al-Bandar's body still suspended by the rope, but Barzan al-Tikriti's headless body lying on the ground and his severed head some feet away. It was rather gruesome.

INSKEEP: Jamie, why did Iraqi officials think it was necessary to call you in and show you this?

TARABAY: They were at very great pains to show that they were innocent of any tampering, any inappropriate behavior or anything that might have echoed the sort of treatment that Saddam Hussein had received during his execution, which was widely publicized when those videos were released more than two weeks ago. Ali al-Dabbagh began this morning in Baghdad announcing to everyone that the executions took place. And he did mention that the body of Barzan al-Tikriti was decapitated.

He called it an act of God. That just set off so much outrage from Sunni leaders, who demanded to see this video, because they accused the executioners of mutilating his body. They said it was absolutely impossible that a body could be separated from a head like that, and they wanted to see proof that there hadn't been any tampering.

INSKEEP: Were there Iraqi's among this group of people who were brought in to see the videotape?

TARABAY: Yes. There were about 50 people in this room. About 40 of them were Iraqi or Arab journalists. And again, to stress how careful the Iraqi government was being this time around, they'd certainly learnt their lesson from the last execution. They searched everyone. They took pens off people. They took watches of people. They just made sure that there wasn't anything electronic that went into that room, so no one could make a recording of these executions. They showed it once, and they refuse to show it again.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad, at a very busy time in Iraq. And Jamie, I want to ask you about another story. Last week, a number of Iranians were arrested by the United States inside Iraq in the northern city of Erbil. And that story is continuing to develop. What's happening now?

TARABAY: There was a press briefing this afternoon. The top military commander, top American military commander, General George Casey, said that in detention, these five men gave intelligence that gave the American military great confidence at these people we're not diplomats. They're actually intelligence operatives working inside Iraq.

INSKEEP: Which is a matter of some tension now between Iran and the United States.

TARABAY: Yes. I mean, they're accusing these people of arming and training insurgent groups to work against the Iraqi government and also against U.S. forces.

INSKEEP: Okay. That's NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you.

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