Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Iraq court sentences Tareq Aziz to death
Iraq's supreme criminal court on Tuesday found Iraq's former deputy premier Tareq Aziz guilty of "deliberate murder and crimes against humanity," sentencing to death the long-time international face of the Saddam Hussein regime.
A stone-faced and haggard-looking Aziz, dressed in a dark-blue shirt, listened as Judge Mahmoud Saleh al-Hasan read the verdict.
"After sufficient evidence against Tareq Aziz that he committed and participated in deliberate murder and crimes against humanity the court decided to issue the death sentence," Hasan said in a broadcast on state television after the sentencing.
The verdict evoked quick reaction from the European Union and rights group Amnesty International, both saying they opposed state executions in general.
"Our position on the death penalty is well known, so I have nothing to add," Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told a news briefing when asked about the sentence.
Ashton will remind Iraqi authorities of the EU position on the death penalty, said a diplomat who requested anonymity.
Amnesty's Malcolm Smart said "Saddam Hussein's rule was synonymous with executions, torture and other gross human rights violations, and it is right that those who committed crimes are brought to justice.
"However, it is vital that the death penalty, which is the ultimate denial of human rights, should never be used, whatever the gravity of the crime," he added in a statement.
"It is also high time the Iraqi government turned the page on this grim cycle and one step towards this would be to end all executions and commute the sentences of all those on death row, believed to number several hundred."
In 2009, Aziz was jailed for 15 years for the 1992 execution of 42 Baghdad wholesalers and separately given a seven-year term for his role in expelling Kurds from Iraq's north. He pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Among Saddam's few surviving top cohorts, Aziz turned himself in to US forces in April 2003, days after the fall of Baghdad.
The court also sentenced Aziz to 15 years imprisonment for "committing torture" and 10 years for "participating in torture," and ordered that all of his known wealth be confiscated.
"The verdict was for the crackdown on religious parties which took place in the 1980s," court spokesman Abdul Saheb told AFP.
Among the charges was the April 5, 1980 killing of Mohammed Baqr al-Sadr, founder of the Dawa party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, he said.
Saddam reportedly ordered Sadr killed after the cleric and Dawa voiced support in 1979 for Iran's Islamic revolution, sparking demonstrations across Iraq.
Saddam went on to wipe out a large number of Shiite leaders during the 1980-88 war with Iran.
Two other former Saddam cohorts also received death sentences on Tuesday -- former interior minister Saadoun Shaker and Abid Hmoud, the executed dictator's aide.
All three were sentenced for their role in the crackdown on Shiites.
By law, the death sentences can be appealed and must be confirmed by the presidential council before being carried out.
Giovanni Di Stefano, one of Aziz's lawyers, said the trial had been "a farce."
It was "frankly nothing short of malicious, capricious and non-existent," he said in a statement from his office in Rome.
Before reading the sentence, the judge ordered Aziz to wear a hearing aid so he would understand the verdict. He then waved him away.
Aziz, sitting with his hand on a wooden rail in front, looked tired and ill.
His mouth was slightly crooked, as if an after-effect from a stroke. His family has said he has suffered two strokes while in prison.
Aziz's Jordan-based son Ziad told AFP the death sentence against his father was an act of "revenge."
"The decision was an act of revenge against anybody and anything related to the past," said Ziad, who has lived in Amman with his family since 2003.
Of the three former top officials sentenced to death on Tuesday, the urbane and Christian Aziz was by far the most prominent figure.
Named foreign minister in 1983 and then deputy prime minister in 1991, Aziz exploited his mastery of English to put a gloss on Saddam's murderous regime for two decades.