Botched executions in Iraq prompt renewed death penalty discussions

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 1:57 a.m.

ROME (AP) - The gruesome decapitation of Saddam Hussein's half brother and Saddam's own undignified hanging have prompted renewed calls to abolish the death penalty worldwide as critics blamed the executions for fanning hate in the Middle East.

Governments in the European Union, which has outlawed capital punishment, reiterated their opposition to the death penalty but stayed away from commenting on the manner of Monday's executions in Iraq of Saddam's half brother Barzan Ibrahim and former Revolutionary Court chief Awad al-Bandar.

Ibrahim plunged through the trap door and was beheaded by the jerk of the thick rope at the end of his fall; the Iraqi government said the decapitation was an accident. Saddam's Dec. 30 execution drew international outrage after a clandestine video showed the former president being taunted on the gallows. A second leaked video showed Saddam's corpse with a gaping neck wound.

Hours after Ibrahim and al-Bandar were executed, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Italian Premier Romano Prodi condemned the hangings.

"Our position, born out of principle, is against the death penalty," Barroso said in Rome. "It's an issue of values. We consider that no man has the right to take the life of another man."

Italy has been leading a diplomatic drive since Saddam's execution to have the U.N. General Assembly take up a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty.

On Tuesday, President Bush said Saddam's execution looked like "kind of a revenge killing" and showed that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "has still got some maturation to do."

Bush criticized the circumstances of Saddam's hanging and the other two executions. "I was disappointed and felt like they fumbled the _ particularly the Saddam Hussein execution," the president told PBS.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she hoped that those who made cell phone videos of Saddam's execution would be punished. "We were disappointed there was not greater dignity given to the accused under these circumstances," she told reporters in Egypt.

Portugal's Justice Minister Alberto Costa said an international conference against the death penalty his country is hosting in October as part of an EU drive for a worldwide ban on capital punishment has been "lent greater importance" by the executions in Iraq.

And in London, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain opposes the death penalty but recognizes the right of countries to use it. "We did emphasize that if the executions were to be carried out they should be done so in a dignified way. If, as it appears to be the case, this did not happen, then that clearly was wrong." The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy.

Newspaper editorials, cartoons and some politicians criticized the hangings as an inhumane and terrifying form of punishment.

"Baghdad, horror on the gallows," read the headline on the Italian daily La Repubblica.

The newspaper also satirized the botched hanging in a cartoon. "They got this hanging wrong too," says one character in a conversation. "It's a young democracy, they're practicing," the other answers.

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said it was no surprise that the executions have fanned hate in Iraq. The executioners had been so incompetent that "even the Shiite enemies of the old regime were shocked," it said.

"Don't the Iraqi authorities understand by now the effect of such action on people generally in the Middle East?" said David Winnick, a Labor Party lawmaker in Britain's House of Commons. He added that the "gruesome and botched" hangings would be "strongly condemned in the region."

A spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he "regrets that despite pleas from both himself and the high commissioner for human rights to spare the lives of the two defendants, they were both executed."

The hangings have fed the deepening suspicion by some in the mainly Sunni Muslim Arab world toward the al-Maliki government. Many in the region believe the Iraq government is seeking to impose Shiite dominance over Iraq's Sunni minority, which held power under Saddam.

Hassan al-Aali, secretary-general of a pro-Saddam party in Bahrain, accused the Shiite leaders of intentionally botching Ibrahim's hanging as "part of the game played by the sectarian groups."

And Mohammed Kawash, a columnist in Jordan's Al-Arab Al-Yawm daily, expressed skepticism over the claim the beheading was an accident. He said al-Maliki's administration has "committed blood curdling crimes."

Kawash warned that the executions would fuel Sunni-Shiite hatred.

"We know that blood brings more blood and we know that this blind wave and hunger for revenge will be confronted by a worse one," he wrote. "We are afraid that Iraq will be drowned in a sea of blood, because its rulers have lost their vision and were blinded by hatred."

Associated Press writers Diana Elias in Kuwait City, Thomas Wagner in London and Stephen Graham in Berlin contributed to this story.

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