Saddam Hussein Death: Resources for Journalists

What was he convicted of?

Saddam Hussein was convicted ofwar crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, in the deaths of 148 Shiite Muslims in the town of Dujail, Iraq.

Al Jazeera reported:

[...] a number of the dead were boys 13 years of age. 1,500 people were also incarcerated and tortured, while other residents, many of them women and children, were sent to desert camps. Saddam’s regime destroyed the town and then rebuilt it shortly after. In addition to these punishments, 1,000 square kilometres (250,000 acres) of farmland was destroyed; replanting was only permitted 10 years later.

Who else was executed with him?

Barzan Hassan and Awad Bandar were sentenced to die as well, but CNN reported Friday night that they were not hanged with Hussein and would be executed later. Read CNN’s full story on the trial here.

What was wrong with the trial?

Human Rights Watch lists many problems, not one of which stopped the execution.

How many people did Saddam’s regime kill?

A 2003 report from the White House Web site said:

Under Saddam’s regime many hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of his actions — the vast majority of them Muslims.

According to a 2001 Amnesty International report, “victims of torture in Iraq are subjected to a wide range of forms of torture, including the gouging out of eyes, severe beatings and electric shocks … some victims have died as a result and many have been left with permanent physical and psychological damage.”

Saddam has had approximately 40 of his own relatives murdered.

Allegations of prostitution used to intimidate opponents of the regime, have been used by the regime to justify the barbaric beheading of women.

Documented chemical attacks by the regime, from 1983 to 1988, resulted in some 30,000 Iraqi and Iranian deaths.

Human Rights Watch estimates that Saddam’s 1987-1988 campaign of terror against the Kurds killed at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds. [...] The Iraqi regime used chemical agents to include mustard gas and nerve agents in attacks against at least 40 Kurdish villages between 1987-1988. The largest was the attack on Halabja which resulted in approximately 5,000 deaths. [...] 2,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed during the campaign of terror.

Iraq’s 13 million Shi’a Muslims, the majority of Iraq’s population of approximately 22 million, face severe restrictions on their religious practice, including a ban on communal Friday prayer, and restriction on funeral processions.

According to Human Rights Watch, “senior Arab diplomats told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper al-Hayat in October [1991] that Iraqi leaders were privately acknowledging that 250,000 people were killed during the uprisings, with most of the casualties in the south.”

How should news organizations use any images or video of the execution?

Poynter faculty weighed in with thoughts and advice.

What has the international press said about the hanging?

The Guardian (U.K.)

Ham-Shahri (Iran)

Gulf News(United Arab Emirates)

Hindustan Times and The Times of India (India)

The Sydney Morning Herald(Australia)

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

The Jerusalem Post (Israel)

Bangkok Post (Thailand)

Sueddeutsche Zeitung (Munich, Germany)

Why a hanging and not a firing squad or a lethal injection?

Saddam requested to be shot by a firing squad rather than be hanged as a common criminal.

For one thing, hanging was a method that Saddam himself used during his regime.

The 2003 White House report said Saddam Hussein’s regime has carried out frequent summary executions, including:

  • 4,000 prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in 1984
  • 3,000 prisoners at the Mahjar prison from 1993-1998
  • 2,500 prisoners were executed between 1997-1999 in a “prison cleansing campaign.”
  • 122 political prisoners were executed at Abu Ghraib prison in February/March 2000.
  • 23 political prisoners were executed at Abu Ghraib prison in October 2001.
  • At least 130 Iraqi women were beheaded between June 2000 and April 2001.

Human Rights Watch documented a number of crimes for which Saddam’s government approved the death penalty including “economic crimes” such as these:

  • Sabotage of the national economy (Decree 39 of April 2, 1994). The offences specified in this decree relate to the possession or trade in medicines and medical equipment. The penalty is death or life imprisonment.
  • Theft committed with a weapon or resulting in the death of another person (Decree 59 of June 4, 1994). The death penalty for this offense was mandatory until 2001, when it was replaced by “the maximum term of imprisonment established by the provisions of the penal laws in force.”
  • Smuggling of antiquities from archeological sites or on a scale resulting in damage to the national economy (Decree 76 of June 29, 1994). The death penalty is mandatory.
  • Premeditated crimes punishable by not less than 15 years’ imprisonment committed by members of the internal or special security forces (Decree 91 of July 21, 1994). The death penalty is mandatory.
  • Smuggling of cars, trucks, and certain construction machinery outside Iraq or to a hostile party (Decree 95 of July 27, 1994). The death penalty is mandatory.
  • Theft, embezzlement, forgery of official documents, and bribery committed by military personnel (Decree 111 of Aug. 23, 1994). The penalty is death or life imprisonment.
  • Deserting from the army on three occasions or providing cover or shelter for a deserter on three occasions (Decree 115 of Aug. 25, 1994). The death penalty is mandatory, and the decree has retroactive effect with respect to past offenders who fail to surrender to the authorities within the period stipulated in the decree.
  • Organizing a group for the purposes of pimping or procurement (Decree 118 of Aug. 27). The death penalty is mandatory.
  • Loss of life caused by a member of the armed forces, internal security forces, or a government employee in circumstances other than those stipulated in Decree 59 of 1994 mentioned above (Decree 114 of Sept. 5, 1994).
  • Falsification of military service documents (Decree 179 of Oct. 8, 1994). The death penalty for this offence was abolished in January 2003 and replaced with a term of imprisonment ranging between 10 and 15 years.
  • Engaging in fraudulent investments during wartime or while economic sanctions remain in force, or if they result in the undermining of the economy (Decree 16 of Feb. 27, 1995).
Time reported that, since 2004, when the Iraqi government again started executions by hanging, there have been several problems.
Since the Iraqi government reintroduced capital punishment in 2004, several executions have been beset by glitches and logistical snafus. At first, executioners used an old rope left over from Saddam’s regime that stretched too much to break the condemned’s neck; it sometimes took as long as eight minutes for the hanged to die. New ropes brought in for later executions jerked harder on the convicted person’s spine, but executioners soon noticed the cords fraying on the bend of the reinforced steel installed in the cement ceiling of the gallows. During a recent round of executions, on Sept. 6, the rope snapped after 12 hangings, sending a condemned man plummeting 15 ft. through the trap door onto the hard concrete floor below. Miraculously, he survived. “Allah saved me!” he shouted. “Allah saved me!” For 40 minutes, prison guards, officials and witnesses engaged in heated arguments over whether or not to interpret the broken rope as divine intervention.

What is the history of Saddam’s relationship with the United States?

The National Security Archive described the U.S. relationship with Saddam.

Here is are Saddam timelines from National Public Radio and from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Also don’t miss this interactive multimedia piece from The Washington Post.

What is the history of execution pictures?

Images of prominent criminals’ deaths have been displayed prominently for more than a century.

WARNING: The links that follow lead to death pictures.

Pictures of the hanging of Mary Surratt and her co-conspirators — all convicted of involvement in the death of President Lincoln — were widely published after the July 7, 1865, execution.

Photographs of dangling bodies punctuated the Nuremberg trials, too.

A historical site recounts:

As they went to the gallows, most of the 10 endeavored to show bravery. Some were defiant and some were resigned and some begged the Almighty for mercy.

All except for Rosenberg made brief, last-minute statements on the scaffold. But the only one to make any reference to Hitler or the Nazi ideology in his final moments was Julius Streicher.

The site reports that Hermann Goering saved the hangman some work by committing suicide before he was hanged. According to another historical Web site, the colonel in charge of the detail had Goering’s body carted out and placed beneath the gallows anyway. The body, that site says, was uncovered in front of journalists to prevent the spread of rumors that Goering was still alive.

This is the kind of detail that humanizes the condemned.

Other publicized photos include everybody from Jesse James and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. Guevara’s photographs actually sparked some young revolutionaries to take up his cause.

When the Hussein brothers died, Fox News reported that two sets of death pictures were produced. The brothers were shaved and cleaned up before the second set of images was released. The reason, I think, was to assure Iraqis that they no longer needed to fear those guys.

At the time, the Pentagon explained that the Hussein brothers’ images may actually decrease attacks on American troops. Paul Wolfowitz, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy, said: “We are going to make sure the Iraqi people believe us at the end of the day.”

The Hussein brothers were killed in a gunbattle with American soldiers. Saddam, on the other hand, will be executed at the gallows.

What is the history of hanging?

The use of hanging, of course, is an ancient practice. It is widely believed that those who are hanged die from strangulation, but that is not always the case. Sometimes they die when the rope snaps the neck. It all depends on how far the body drops, and where the rope is tied on the neck.

In fact, according to Capital Punishment U.K., there are several forms of hanging:

  • Short- or no-drop hanging — The prisoner drops only a few inches, and the weight of his suspended body and his physical struggling causes him to die of strangulation.
  • Suspension hanging — The prisoner is lifted into the air, letting the pull of gravity do the work. Death is caused by strangulation, much in the same way as it is in short-drop hanging.
  • Standard-drop hanging — The prisoner drops a stock distance, generally between four and six feet, which may or may not break the neck. If the neck is not broken, death is generally caused by strangulation.
  • Long-drop hanging — Practiced in Britain from 1874. The distance of the fall is calculated according to the weight and body type of the prisoner and is designed to break the neck. This method was adopted in the British Colonies and by other countries that wished to make executions more humane.

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