BAGHDAD, Iraq — Saddam Hussein’s half brother and the former chief of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court were both hanged before dawn Monday, but the half-brother's head was severed by the noose — leading to outrage from Sunnis who claim the body was mutilated.
Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam’s half brother and former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, once head of Iraq’s Revolutionary Court, had been found guilty along with Saddam in the killing of 148 Shiite Muslims after a 1982 assassination attempt on the former leader in the town of Dujail north of Baghdad.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh confirmed the executions, saying those attending the hangings included a prosecutor, a judge and a physician.
He also said Ibrahim’s head was severed from his body during his hanging.
“In a rare incident, the head of the accused Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan was separated from his body during the execution,” al-Dabbagh told reporters.
Hangmen gauge the length of rope needed to snap the neck of the condemned but not to create enough force to sever the head.
Saleem al-Jibouri, a senior Sunni Arab lawmaker, said Ibrahim's body might have been weakened by the cancer he was suffering.
Trembling with fear
Iraqi government officials later showed journalists silent video of the executions. The two men trembled with fear and stood side-by-side, wearing red prison jumpsuits. As they reached the gallows, black hoods were put on their heads and five masked men surrounded them.
There was no repeat of the sectarian taunting that marred Saddam’s execution when it was revealed by illicit mobile phone video footage.
After the trap doors opened, al-Bandar could be seen dangling from the rope. Ibrahim’s body was lying on the floor, chest down, his still-hooded severed head resting several yards away.Video: Saddam's co-defendants
Al-Dabbagh said the gallows were built to international standards and in accordance with human rights organizations.
But Param-Preet Singh, counsel for the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, said she was not aware of any internationally recognized standards for hanging.
Al-Dabbagh stressed that all laws and rules were respected during the proceedings, choosing his words carefully after Saddam’s execution became an unruly scene that brought worldwide criticism of the Iraqi government. Video of Saddam's execution, recorded on a cell phone camera, showed the former dictator being taunted on the gallows.
“Those present signed documents pledging not to violate the rules or otherwise face legal penalties. All the people present abided by the government’s rule and there were no violations,” he said, adding the hangings occurred at 3 a.m. “No one shouted slogans or said anything that would taint the execution. None of those charged were insulted.”
“We will not release the video, but we want to show the truth,” he added. “The Iraqi government acted in a neutral way.”
The announcement drew outrage from some in the Sunni community while majority Shiites who were heavily persecuted under Saddam’s regime expressed joy.
Ibrahim’s son-in-law, Azzam Saleh Abdullah, said “we heard the news from the media. We were supposed to be informed a day earlier, but it seems that this government does not know the rules.”
He said it reflected the hatred felt by the Shiite-led government. “They still want more Iraqi bloodshed. To hell with this democracy,” he said.
Khalaf al-Olayan, a leader of the main Sunni bloc in parliament, demanded to see any video taken during the execution.
"It is impossible for a person to be decapitated during a hanging,” he told Al-Jazeera television. “This shows that they (the government) have mutilated the body and this is a violation of the law.”
“We want to see the video that was taken during the execution of the two men in order for them (government) to prove what they are saying,” he added.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, had called on the Iraqi government to refrain from executing Ibrahim and al-Bandar.
The bodies were later taken to Saddam’s hometown of Ouja, near Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, for burial, and residents opened fire into the air intensively, according to Iraqi tradition. Thousands from the Sunni-dominated area gathered as the bodies were being prepared for burial.
Police in Ouja said two graves had been opened near Saddam’s grave in a building he built in the 1990s as a community center for religious occasions.
Same execution chamber
The executions occurred in the same Saddam-era military intelligence headquarters building in north Baghdad where the former leader was hanged two days before the end of 2006, according to an Iraqi general, who would not allow use of his name because he was not authorized to release the information. The building is located in the Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah.
The two men were to have been hanged along with Saddam on Dec. 30, but Iraqi authorities decided to execute Saddam alone on what National Security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie called a “special day.”
Last week, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani urged the government to delay the executions.
“In my opinion we should wait,” Talabani said Wednesday at a news conference with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. “We should examine the situation,” he said without elaborating.
On Tuesday, al-Maliki said that Khalilzad asked him to delay Saddam’s execution for 10 days to two weeks, but added that Iraqi officials rejected the demand.
A lawyer for the two men told The Associated Press recently that they were taken from their cells and told they were going to be hanged on the same day Saddam was executed.
Issam Ghazawi, a member of Saddam’s defense team for the past two years, said he met individually with Ibrahim and al-Bandar recently, and that Ibrahim told him they were escorted from their cells and told they were also going to be executed.
“The Americans took me and al-Bandar from our cells on the same day of Saddam’s execution to an office inside the prison at 1 a.m. They asked us to collect our belongings because they intend to execute us at dawn,” Ibrahim reportedly said.
He said the two men were also told to write their wills.
Al-Bandar and Ibrahim were taken back to their prison cells nearly nine hours later, according to Ghazawi.
“Their execution should be commuted under such circumstances because of the psychological pain they endured as they waited to hang,” he said.
Ghazawi quoted Al-Bandar as saying he “wished to have been executed with President Saddam.” Ibrahim, the lawyer said, “was in the worst condition. He kept crying over the death of his brother and said it was a great loss for the family and the Arab world.”
After Saddam’s execution but before Ibrahim and al-Bandar’s, Human Rights Watch released a report calling the speedy trial and subsequent hanging of Saddam proof of the new Iraqi government’s disregard for human rights.
“The tribunal repeatedly showed its disregard for the fundamental due process rights of all of the defendants,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.