Death sought for Hussein


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The chief prosecutor asked an Iraqi judge yesterday to put deposed dictator Saddam Hussein to death for crimes against humanity, capping off months of grim testimony about the alleged 1982 massacre of Shiite Muslim villagers.

Lead prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi also urged death for two of Hussein's fellow defendants: Barzan Ibrahim, a half-brother to the ex-leader and Iraq's former intelligence chief, and former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

"The prosecutor general requests from the court to issue the most severe punishment against them," al-Moussawi told the judge in his closing arguments. "They did not have mercy on either the elderly or the children."

The prosecutor also urged that Awad al-Bandar, the former head of Hussein's Revolutionary Court who doled out death sentences against the villagers, be punished for their murders. But he did not specifically call for the death penalty.

Hussein and seven co-defendants were charged with carrying out a sweeping campaign of arbitrary arrest, torture, forced deportation and killings against the people of Dujail, a predominantly Shiite village where the former president survived an attempt on his life in 1982.

Prosecutors describe a witch hunt that culminated with 148 people, including elderly residents and scores of children, being put to death without fair trials.

The prosecutor asked the judge to dismiss charges or "minimize the punishment" in the cases of four lesser defendants. All were local officials at the time of the assassination attempt and were described in testimony as relatively powerless figures with little choice but to follow orders from Baghdad.

Hussein broke into a broad grin and chuckled to himself as al-Moussawi urged Chief Judge Raouf Rasheed Abdel-Rahman to impose the death penalty.

The case is the first in a series of trials against the former dictator and his deputies. The Dujail trial, which opened last fall, is set to reconvene July 10 with closing arguments by the defense. The next case will examine charges that Hussein ordered thousands of Kurds killed in Anfal with mustard gas.

Prosecutors have described years of retribution and collective punishment suffered by the people of Dujail. Even the town's farmlands and orchards were destroyed by the regime, they say. Women and children were banished into the desert.

The trial has often unfolded as a series of competing historical narratives. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers have sought to justify their position by painting opposing versions of Iraq's past.

The defense team has tried to downplay the punishment of the people of Dujail by portraying the brutality as a stroke of necessary self-protection carried out by a threatened regime.

They have pointed out that Iran and Iraq were at war at the time of the assassination attempt and have accused the regime in Tehran of collaborating with Iraqi Shiites to kill Hussein.

Defense lawyers also have disputed the number of dead, insisting that some of the 148 alleged victims are still alive.

Megan K. Stack writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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