MULTIMEDIA PHOTOGRAPHIC SLIDESHOW: NEW ORLEANS AFTER THE DISASTER
SLIDESHOW: WITH RANDY NEWMAN SINGING LOUISIANA
(Caution: Disturbing Images)
INTERACTIVE MEDIA: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SADDAM HUSSEIN
NYT INTERACTIVE FEATURE: DEATH OF THE IRAQI TYRANT
Adapted from today’s Times of London:
The knock on the door came just before 6 a.m. Saddam Hussein’s executioners were disguised with black balaclavas. He spent his last minutes yesterday in the sordid bowels of Iraqi military intelligence headquarters, once home to his own torturers and killers. Just as the dawn call to prayer was beginning over the city, he was led, shambling in leg irons, to the scaffold to pay the price for his crimes against the Iraqi people.
“We took him to the gallows room and he looked like he wondered what was going on,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, who saw him die. “He looked at the gallows not believing what was going to happen.” As the world reacted with mixed jubilation and condemnation to the hanging, Rubaie revealed that the deposed dictator muttered as he was taken to his death: “Do not be afraid; it is where we all go.” Rubaie was among the 15 people in the ill-lit room that was Saddam’s last sight on earth. The former Iraqi dictator showed no remorse, said Rubaie, speaking by telephone from Baghdad. “He was respected throughout before and after the execution. We followed rigorously international and Islamic standards.”
After the dramas of Friday night, when Iraqi officials said Saddam’s death was imminent but his lawyers tried to stay his execution with an appeal to a United States court, his fate was set early yesterday. Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, had signed the death warrant before going to celebrate his son’s wedding, and the presidential council had endorsed it.
The American jailers who had custody of Saddam were ordered to surrender him to the Iraqi government. They offered him tranquillisers but Saddam refused. “We received physical custody of Saddam Hussein around 5:30 a.m. from the coalition forces, and we took over and he became ours,” said Rubaie. As US troops stood guard outside, Saddam was first led to a sparse and unheated holding room in the bowels of the headquarters of Iraqi military intelligence. It would not have been lost on him that his own security forces had tortured and killed many people in the same grim building. Saddam was left for about half an hour to contemplate his fate. Iraqi law provides that a condemned man be allowed a final cigarette and a meal before his execution. “He was handcuffed and we took him and sat him down,” said Rubaie. “There was a judge, a deputy general, deputy minister of justice, deputy minister of interior, a couple of other ministers, myself and a doctor.” After formalities they took him through “a huge file” of documents detailing his trial for crimes against humanity.
“The judge took him through the conviction. He was silent until he saw a video camera, and then began shouting slogans such as ‘God is great.’ He started his rhetoric: ‘Long live Islam, down with Persia,’ down with this and that. He started shouting his head off.” Rubaie made a last gesture of mercy. “His handcuffs were a little bit tight, and hurt him, and I instructed the guards to loosen them.”
The formalities over, the four masked executioners stepped forward. Short, tubby and dressed in leather jackets, they looked more like Al-Qaeda killers in an amateur terrorist video than those responsible for carrying out the sentence of death on a former head of state. Even though Saddam had shrunk in stature since the days of his pomp, he towered over them.
He had dressed for death in clothes sewn by his personal Turkish tailor: black trousers, shined black shoes, a starched white shirt, black pullover and a black wool overcoat that protected him against the deep chill of his remaining minutes in the execution suite. His hair was dyed his signature black, but he had heavy bags under his eyes.
In sight of a new hemp noose hanging from the ceiling, the executioners removed his handcuffs to tie his hands behind his back. As he stood close to the trapdoor one wrapped a black scarf around his neck to shield it from rope burns. When they went to put the black hood over his head, he mumbled: “That won’t be necessary.” The noose was slipped over his head. He stood looking almost bewildered, and an executioner awkwardly tightened the hand-coiled knot of the noose on the left side of his neck. Even on the brink of death Saddam had not forgotten the video camera. Just before he dropped through a trapdoor on a platform surrounded by red railing, he shouted the Muslim profession of faith, “God is great and Muhammad is his prophet” and “Palestine is Arab.”
“He was standing with the rope round his neck,” said Rubaie. “The executioner started reading verses from the Koran, ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.’ He repeated it twice and [Saddam] went down in no time.” The hangman pulled a lever, and Saddam dropped silently about 3ft through a metal trapdoor. It was 6.10 a.m. Rubaie said he died instantly. “It was so, so quick, totally painless and there was no movement after that.”
Sami al-Askari, who represented the prime minister at the hanging, said he “heard his neck snap.”
Saddam hung from the rope for about 10 minutes, watched by the audience of about 15 people who could see him dangling under the platform. A doctor checked that his heart had stopped, then one of the executioners untied him. There was blood on the rope. The executioners put him in a white body bag and took photographs as proof for diehard loyalists that Saddam was dead. Iraqi television broadcast a still photograph of the last image of the dictator, his neck at an unnatural angle, sticking out of the white shroud.
Munir Haddad, an Iraqi appeals court judge, also witnessed the execution. He said afterwards: “One of the guards present asked Saddam Hussein whether he was afraid of dying. Saddam said, ‘Why would I? I spent my whole life fighting the infidels and the intruders.’ “Another guard asked him, ‘Why did you destroy Iraq, and destroy us? You starved us, and you allowed the Americans to occupy us.’ His reply was, ‘I destroyed the invaders and . . . I destroyed the enemies of Iraq, and I turned Iraq from poverty into wealth.’
“Saddam was normal and in full control. He said, ‘This is my end. I started my life as a fighter and as a political militant. So death does not frighten me.’ “He said, ‘We’re going to heaven, and our enemies will rot in hell.’ “When he was taken to the gallows, the guards tried to put a hood on his head, but he refused. Then he recited verses from the Koran.”
“Some of the guards started to taunt him.” The guards chanted the name of the Shi’ite firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. “Who is Moqtada?” — Saddam sneered. “A cleric who was present asked Saddam to recite some spiritual words,” Haddad said. “Saddam did so, but with sarcasm. These were his last words, and then the cord tightened around his neck and he dropped to his death.”
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