Saddam Hussein, the ex-Iraqi dictator who probably supported al-Qaida during its preparations for the 9/11 attack on the U.S. and then abandoned Baghdad in front of advancing American military forces to retreat to an underground bunker, has been executed for ordering the deaths of his own countrymen.
Al Arabiya TV reported Hussein was hanged shortly before 10 p.m. Eastern. along with his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and former judge Awad al-Bander.
He had been sentenced to hang by the new democratic judiciary in the nation he once ruled with not only threats but actual executions and exterminations. Iraqis also had told how he once ordered the use of poison gas on Kurds, killing an untold number.
He had been in custody since he was found hiding in a pit near Tikrit in 2003, eight months after his government disintegrated and fled Baghdad, and American soldiers had been posted as guards over him so there would be no breach of security.
As the preparations for the execution were made, Munir Hadda, a judge on the appeals court that affirmed Saddam’s death sentence, said, “All the measures have been done. There is no reason for delays.”
The sentence, announced Nov. 5, reportedly was signed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to a government official who would not release his name.
Defense lawyers reported they tried to do what they could to save his life, but al-Maliki said opposing the penalty was an insult to Saddam’s victims.
Pentagon officials said U.S. military forces were on high alert to deal with any possible backlash from the execution.
Yesterday, two half brothers had met with Saddam in his prison cell, a defense lawyer told The Associated Press, when the ex-dictator gave them his personal belongings.
The actual crime for which the appellate court affirmed his death sentence was for killing 148 people who were detained following allegations of an attempt to assassinate Saddam in the city of Dujail in 1982.
But there have been claims submitted ever since his capture that he actually was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis or more.
Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Saddam was captured when he was found “cowering” and disheveled in a hole in the ground about nine miles from his hometown of Tikrit, some eight months after the U.S. military campaign ousted him from power.
He had a pistol but was taken into custody and didn’t use it, authorities reported. They also reported finding about $750,000 in $100 bills from the U.S. and two AK-47s with him.
President Bush immediately affirmed that Saddam would “face the justice he denied to millions.”
Then when the penalty was announced by the Iraqi High Tribunal, the president said the trial and verdict was a milestone for the Iraqi people in their effort “to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law.”
He called it a “major achievement for Iraq’s young democracy and its constitutional government.”
During the trial, there were about 130 witnesses who testified, but as Bush noted afterwards, “The man who once struck fear in the hearts of Iraqis had to listen to free Iraqis recount the acts of torture and murder that he ordered against their families and against them.”
Saddam had said earlier he already knew his fate.
“I will go to the gallows with dignity knowing I will die a martyr,” he told his lawyer, Bushra Khalil, the only woman on his defense team. “The legacy I will leave the world is my new epic work that will assure my place in literature.”
During the closing stages of Saddam’s trial, Khalil, 44, revealed how she built up a unique relationship with the former dictator. She described how she listened for hours in his cell as he spoke about foreign leaders – including Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom he disparaged – and his ambition to be a best-selling author.
Khalil is a Shi’ite Muslim who took on the task of trying to defend the hated Sunni dictator. She was the only member of the defense team Saddam has allowed to visit him in his high-security prison near Baghdad International Airport.
During the trial, two defense lawyers were murdered – and a third fled the country to escape assassination.
During the last weeks of his life, Saddam was treated with the same vise-like grip that holds death row inmates in American prisons, with his iron bed bolted to the floor and his toiletries consisting of a weekly bar of soap, sponge and tube of toothpaste.
His bathroom had a shower and European-style toilet. A metal washbasin and two towels completed the facilities. Toilet paper is of the kind sold in any Baghdad marketplace.
His breakfasts consisted of yogurt, toast and tea, eaten with airline-style plastic cutlery. His guards are unarmed. Saddam has told Khalil his relationship with them is “friendly.”
Khalil said Saddam sees his book as “a cross between ‘Gone with the Wind’ and Russia’s epic defense of Stalingrad in World War II.”
WND has reported that Saddam has been linked by documents, including a letter from a member of his intelligence network, that indicate al-Qaida and the Taliban had a relationship with Baghdad before the attacks.
The letter was dated Sept. 15, 2001, and reported a pre-9/11 conversation between an Iraqi intelligence source and a Taliban Afghani consul. It indicated Osama bin Laden, who has taken credit for the 9/11 attack, and the Taliban in Afghanistan were in contact with Iraq, and said the U.S. had proof Saddam’s regime and al-Qaida were cooperating to hit a target in the U.S.