BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein and his half brother early today were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging for war crimes in the 1982 killings of 148 people in the town of Dujail, as the visibly shaken former leader shouted “God is great!”
After the verdict was read, a trembling Saddam yelled out, “Life for the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!”
In addition to the former Iraqi dictator and Barzan Ibrahim, his half brother, the Iraqi High Tribunal convicted and sentenced Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the head of Iraq’s former Revolutionary Court, to death by hanging. Iraq’s former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Three other co-defendants were convicted of murder and torture and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
One defendant was acquitted for lack of evidence.
The verdicts and sentencing came just two days before U.S. voters go to the polls in closely contested congressional elections.
U.S. and Iraqi officials say the timing is sheer coincidence, but Saddam’s lawyers and others, including left-leaning bloggers, charge that the date was pushed back to give the Bush administration and Republican candidates a positive headline from Baghdad after a violent month in which more than 100 U.S. troops were killed.
The five-member panel overseeing the trial of the former president and his seven co-defendants originally set the verdict and sentencing for Oct. 16, but last month it announced an extension until today to review the evidence. Saddam’s verdict is subject to appeal.
Iraqi leaders have braced for violence, rescinding leaves for military officers and deploying troops to Dujail out of fear of reprisal killings by former regime elements.
During the 40-session trial, the prosecution presented incriminating documents, including an execution order for 148 people signed by Saddam and an investigative report presented to Saddam that indicated only 10 people were involved in the assassination attempt.