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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ: BOMBINGS IN BAGHDAD; ANOTHER
DEATH SENTENCE

Third Hussein codefendant to be hanged

Previous problems lead to efforts to make sure the execution goes smoothly, official says.

February 13, 2007|Tina Susman | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — As Iraqi officials prepare to hang another of Saddam Hussein's former aides, they say they are determined to prevent the uproar that followed the last high-level execution, when the head of Hussein's half brother ripped off and rolled across the death chamber floor.

Rope widths and lengths are being reviewed to ensure the cord can properly hold Taha Yassin Ramadan, who was sentenced to death Monday for the slayings of 148 Shiite Muslims from a small farming town in the 1980s. Government officials are even building new gallows to accommodate convicts of different sizes, said Basam Ridha, an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

"We're taking the extra precautionary steps, including creating two types of gallows: one for heavyset guys and another for normal folks and skinnier guys," said Ridha, who was in the courtroom when a judge ordered the execution of Ramadan, a former vice president.

It was Ramadan's second time hearing his fate, and Monday the news was far worse than on the first go-round. He was sentenced to life in prison after his conviction in November. But the appeals court, reflecting the bitterness toward the men who propped up Hussein's Sunni-led dictatorship, decided that life behind bars was not harsh enough.

Ramadan is expected to become the fourth person from Hussein's inner circle to die for the crimes in Dujayl, a Shiite-dominated town north of Baghdad whose tortured history became symbolic of the brutality of the former regime.

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'An end to this era'

Ridha said the government owed it to Iraqis to do away with Ramadan and others associated with Hussein.

"We need to execute the bad guys," Ridha said. "A lot of our widows and children suffered a lot from these people. We need to put an end to this era."

International human rights groups criticized the decision, arguing that the evidence didn't prove Ramadan's complicity in murder. The victims, all men and boys, were killed after a July 1982 assassination attempt carried out against Hussein during a presidential visit to Dujayl.

At best, the rights groups said, testimony and evidence supported a conviction for lesser crimes, such as unlawful imprisonment and inhumane acts, which do not carry the death penalty.

The five-judge court convicted Ramadan in November on those crimes in addition to murder and sentenced him to life in prison. The conviction was upheld on appeal in December, at which time the appellate court asked the court to reconsider the sentence.

"We're sad because this appears to be a political act, not a judicial one," said Miranda Sissons, deputy Middle East director of the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, who attended Monday's hearing.

The center, and the New York group Human Rights Watch, said Ramadan's murder conviction was based on inferences drawn from his close association with Hussein and his command of a militia that rounded up the victims and delivered them to their fate.

One of Ramadan's defense attorneys, Ziad Khasawneh, denounced the ruling as a political decision orchestrated by the United States. "We are certain the decision has been made to hang all the leaders linked to Saddam," he said.

The case will be automatically appealed, but Khasawneh said he already knew the outcome. "There is no hope, unless there is a divine intervention," he said.

Ramadan, who is in his 60s, stood as the judge announced the sentence.

"Oh my God, I swear I am innocent," he said loudly but calmly after hearing his fate.

"Take him," the judge said, and Ramadan, waving farewell with his right hand, was led away.

Ridha predicted that Ramadan would be executed within weeks.

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An embarrassment

Hussein was hanged Dec. 30, and two other defendants were hanged Jan. 15, including Hussein's half brother, Barzan Ibrahim Hasan.

The executions proved embarrassing to Maliki's government. Hussein was shown being taunted by guards as he was led to his death, and his half brother's head was torn off when he plunged downward.

Lately, however, Iraq's executioners have had plenty of practice. On Sunday alone, 14 people were hanged across the country for crimes including rape and murder, Ridha said.

"Another execution will show the decisiveness of the government," he said, insisting it was necessary to reassure Iraqis of the government's desire to bring stability. "This is the new Iraq."

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susman@latimes.com

Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi and special correspondents in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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