Second Iraq Hanging Also Went Awry
BAGHDAD, Jan. 15 — Iraq’s turbulent effort to reckon with the violence of its past took another macabre turn on Monday when the execution of Saddam Hussein’s half brother ended with the hangman’s noose decapitating him after he dropped through the gallows trapdoor.
An official video played to a small group of Iraqi and Western reporters more than 13 hours after the hanging showed Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, former head of Mr. Hussein’s secret police, standing nervously on the trapdoor in a flame-orange jumpsuit of the kind used at the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, his head and mustache shaved. Beside him, praying feverishly in identical garb, stood the other condemned man, Awad Hamad al-Bandar, the former chief judge of Mr. Hussein’s revolutionary court.
After executioners in full-face balaclavas pulled black hoods over the two men’s heads, tightened nooses around their necks and pulled the lever opening the trapdoors, both fell like weights. But the hangmen’s calculations of weight, gravity and the momentum needed to snap their necks — a grim science that has produced detailed “drop charts” used for decades in hangings around the world — appeared, in Mr. Ibrahim’s case, to have gone seriously awry.
Iraqi officials said their execution procedures had been exhaustively reviewed after the Hussein execution on Dec. 30, which culminated with the former dictator facing a volley of verbal abuse from members of the execution party as he waited with the noose around his neck. The officials said that their goal was to prevent a recurrence of those scenes, which were sectarian in nature and set off a storm of protest around the world, and that they had consulted with Western “humanitarian organizations” to get the procedures right.
Under pressure from American officials, the hanging of Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Bandar, who were sentenced in November for their roles in the torture and execution of scores of Shiites in the town of Dujail after an alleged assassination attempt against Mr. Hussein in 1982, had been delayed for more than two weeks while the Maliki government drew up new guidelines for executions.
American and Iraqi officials said the aim was to prevent a recurrence of the scenes that turned Mr. Hussein, a mass murderer in the eyes of many Iraqis, into something of a sympathetic figure at his death and, across the Arab world, into an icon of dignity and courage.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had assured the Americans that instead of having 25 witnesses, as at the Hussein hanging, only about half as many would attend. Moreover, he pledged to exclude any known loyalists of the Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, a polarizing figure whose name was invoked by guards to antagonize Mr. Hussein.
With those assurances, the Americans agreed to release the two men, and flew them by helicopter from the American detention center at Camp Cropper to the same execution spot used for Mr. Hussein, at the former headquarters of the Istikhbarat, the deposed government’s military intelligence agency.
But events at the gallows in the predawn hours of Monday had something of the same surreal and freakish quality that enveloped the Hussein hanging.
Iraqi officials who attended the hanging said the calculation in the case of Mr. Ibrahim, a 55-year-old of medium height and build, had allowed for a “drop” of eight feet — too much, according to at least one United States Army manual — and about that amount of thick yellow rope could be seen coiled at Mr. Ibrahim’s feet before the hanging.
The video showed his head being snapped off as the rope went taut, and ending up, still inside the hood, lying in the pit of the gallows about five feet from his headless body.
Mr. Bandar could be seen dangling from the rope above Mr. Ibrahim, whose body was lying on its chest on the floor of the dark, dank pit, blood pooling beside his severed neck. The silent, three-minute video then ended abruptly, with officials saying they would run it only once, and not show it in public again.
To ensure no illicit copies of the video were made with cellphone cameras, as happened at the execution of Mr. Hussein, reporters attending the showing had their cellphones taken away by hawk-eyed Iraqi security men.
Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for Mr. Maliki who supervised the details of Mr. Hussein’s execution, said officials wanted to ensure that Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Bandar died instantly, and were not left dangling at the end of the hanging rope for 15 to 20 minutes before they were asphyxiated, which he said had been a deliberate tactic used in thousands of hangings under Mr. Hussein. That seemed to suggest that the executioners had deliberately allowed for a long “drop” for the two men hanged Monday, to be sure their necks were broken cleanly by their fall.
The Iraqis described the decapitation of Mr. Ibrahim as a “rare incident,” but they acknowledged that a similar thing had happened at least once before in the score or more of hangings that have been carried out since the fall of Mr. Hussein. They cited the case of an Egyptian man hanged in the northern city of Mosul for offenses linked to the insurgency, who had also had his head separated as he fell. In Mr. Hussein’s case, an illicit video taken after the hanging showed a bloody, egg-sized gouge in his neck, below his left ear, where the noose had cut into him as he dropped.
An Internet search for manuals on hanging suggested that Mr. Ibrahim was the victim of an overestimate by his executioners. One of the most authoritative manuals, the United States Army’s “Procedure for Military Executions,” issued under the authority of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was Army chief of staff in 1947, gave a chart that recommended that a man of about Mr. Ibrahim’s weight, about 185 pounds, would need a “drop” of five feet seven inches — nearly two and a half feet less than the drop for Mr. Ibrahim — to assure what the manual called “a proper execution.”
The manual added: “A medical officer should be consulted to determine whether any factors, such as age, health or muscular condition, will affect the amount of drop necessary for a proper execution.”
At his trial, Mr. Ibrahim, though second only to Mr. Hussein in his angry declamations against his Iraqi and American captors, mentioned his need for medication on a number of occasions, and complained bitterly about the “disgusting” American cigarettes he said he was given in lots of 10 a day.
Mr. Ibrahim’s decapitation appeared to have badly unnerved the Maliki government. The Iraqis involved were so shaken that they waited more than seven hours after the 3 a.m. executions to formally announce them, and then read a statement that dwelled on the two men’s “big crimes against humanity” while serving as acolytes to Mr. Hussein. The statement made only a passing reference to the severing of Mr. Ibrahim’s head.
“In a rare incident, the head of the convict Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan” — his name as it appeared on court documents — “was separated from his body during the execution,” it said.
Further details were left to a news conference called six hours later, when rumors were circulating among Sunni Arab loyalists of the former government, and on Arabic-language television channels broadcasting across the Middle East, that Mr. Ibrahim had been deliberately decapitated in an act of revenge by the Maliki government and as an insult to the Sunni Muslim world.
The depth of suspicion, and the readiness among Sunni Arabs to blame the United States for everything grim in Iraq, was reflected in interviews conducted in neighboring countries after the hangings. “The U.S. is 100 percent guilty,” said Turki al-Rasheed, who heads an organization promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia. “It means they cut Barzan’s head in the execution chamber.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Egypt on a Middle East tour, joined the recriminations. “I would be the first to say that we were disappointed that there was not greater dignity given to the accused under these circumstances,” she said, referring to Mr. Hussein’s execution and the two carried out Monday. “I think that passions run high after years of turmoil, under dictatorship, and that is apparently what happened. But it shouldn’t have happened and I think that it did not reflect well on the Iraqi government that it came out that way.”
When officials from Mr. Maliki’s office appeared at the Baghdad Convention Center with the video of the hangings, they were at pains to offer a minutely detailed account of their procedures. Their accounts were about equally apologetic and assertive as they explained how Mr. Ibrahim had come to have his head severed, and how sympathy for the condemned man and his family should be attenuated in the light of the brutalities he had committed when serving his half brother.
Perhaps significantly, the video was soundless, making it impossible to confirm the officials’ assertions that the two condemned men had been spared the verbal abuse that was directed at Mr. Hussein.
Mr. Dabbagh, the official spokesman, said all attending the Monday executions — all Iraqis, as was the case with Mr. Hussein — had been required to sign documents saying they would behave with dignity and restraint. He held up a signed copy of one of the affidavits as another of Mr. Maliki’s aides, Basam Ridha, summarized what he said was the air of restraint at the executions. Mr. Ridha is an Iraqi-American who lived for years in California before returning to Baghdad to a position on Mr. Maliki’s staff that made him the point man for the hangings.
“The whole process was very transparent,” Mr. Ridha said, comparing the hangings favorably with what happened to Mr. Hussein. “No ethnics, no chanting, everything a very smooth transaction, everyone very well behaved.”
Others in the execution party seemed somewhat more taken aback. “When the trapdoor opened, I realized that I was looking at the rope swinging freely, and I asked myself, ‘Where did Barzan go?’ ” said Jaafar al-Moussawi, who was chief prosecutor at the trial that ended with the death sentences for Mr. Hussein, Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Bandar. He added: “I thought that somehow he had gotten loose. So I moved forward toward the pit and looked down, and saw the convict Barzan lying on the ground without his head.”
After Mr. Hussein’s hanging, his body was kept on the back of a police pickup truck in the parking lot of Mr. Maliki’s office in Baghdad’s Green Zone for 18 hours, while an argument raged over whether to hand it over to members of his Albu-Nasir tribe for burial. That dispute was resolved by the Americans, who insisted that the Iraqi leader hand over the body.
After Monday’s hangings, the bodies of Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Bandar were handed over more swiftly, and like Mr. Hussein’s, flown by American military helicopter for burial at Mr. Hussein’s — and Mr. Ibrahim’s — home village of Awja, near the Tigris River city of Tikrit.
Officials in the office of the local governor said that Mr. Bandar’s son, Bandar al-Bandar, a defense lawyer at his trial, had accompanied the bodies on the flight from Baghdad, and that Mr. Ibrahim’s body had been delivered. Abdullah Jabara, the deputy governor, said that roads between Awja and the American airbase at Camp Speicher, outside Tikrit, had been sealed off by the police, and that the bodies would be buried under cover of darkness on Monday night, with a special grave for Mr. Bandar next to Mr. Hussein in a marbled reception hall at Awja. He made no mention of a grave for Mr. Ibrahim, who had a stormy relationship with Mr. Hussein.
Mr. Bandar’s fealty to his old boss, Mr. Hussein, was reflected in his decision, said by Iraqi officials to have been written in his will, to be buried at Tikrit, in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, and not in Basra, the predominantly Shiite southern city where Mr. Bandar, a Sunni Arab, was born. After the hangings were announced, Basra residents drove through the city honking car horns and waving Iraqi flags.
“Some people noted that Barzan’s head was separated from his body during the execution, and said that this was God’s punishment for his crimes,” an Iraqi staff member reported from Basra. “They said this punishment was an expression of what a bad man he was during his life.”