Saddam Execution Video Draws Criticism

By ANITA CHANG
The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; 5:28 AM

-- Grainy cell phone video of Saddam Hussein's execution triggered international criticism Tuesday, with Britain's deputy prime minister calling the leaked images "unacceptable" and the Vatican decrying the footage as a "spectacle" violating human rights.

Meanwhile, the Italian government pushed for a U.N. moratorium on the death penalty, Cuba called the execution "an illegal act," and Sunnis in Iraq took to the streets in mainly peaceful demonstrations across the country.

The unofficial video showed a scene that stopped just short of pandemonium, during which one person is heard shouting "To hell!" at the deposed president and Saddam is heard exchanging insults with his executioners. The inflammatory footage also showed Saddam plummeting through the gallows trapdoor and dangling in death.

The grainy video appeared on the Internet and Al-Jazeera television late Saturday. On Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the execution to try to uncover who taunted the former dictator, and who leaked the cell phone footage.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ran into trouble on his first day of work when he failed to state the U.N.'s official stance opposing capital punishment and said it should be a decision of individual countries.

"Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people and we should never forget victims of his crime," Ban said in response to a reporter's question about Saddam's execution Saturday for crimes against humanity. "The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide."

His ambiguous answer put a question mark over the U.N.'s stance on the death penalty, although Ban's spokeswoman said there was no change in policy.

British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said those who leaked the footage should be condemned.

"I think the manner was quite deplorable really. I don't think one can endorse in any way that, whatever your views about capital punishment," Prescott said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"Frankly, to get the kind of recorded messages coming out is totally unacceptable and I think whoever is involved and responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves."

The Holy See's daily, L'Osservatore Romano, lamented that "making a spectacle" of the execution had turned capital punishment into "an expression of political hubris."

The execution "represented, for the ways in which it happened and for the media attention it received, another example of the violation of the most basic rights of man," L'Osservatore wrote.

The office of Italian Premier Romano Prodi said Italy would seek the support of other countries that oppose capital punishment to put the issue of a moratorium to the U.N. General Assembly. Italy and all other European Union countries ban capital punishment.

Italy, which is one of the rotating members of the U.N. Security Council, has lobbied unsuccessfully for U.N. action against the death penalty.

On Monday, a crowd of Sunni mourners in Samarra marched to a bomb-damaged Shiite shrine, the Golden Dome, and were allowed by guards and police to enter the holy place carrying a mock coffin and photos of the former dictator.

The shrine was bombed by Sunni extremists 10 months ago, an attack that triggered the current cycle of retaliatory attacks between Sunnis and Shiites.

Communist Cuba, which allows capital punishment, called Saddam's execution "an illegal act in a country that has been driven toward an internal conflict in which millions of citizens have been exiled or lost their lives."

The Foreign Ministry statement Monday said the island nation "has a moral duty to express its point of view about the assassination committed by the occupying power."

The U.S. military had held Saddam since capturing him in December 2003 but turned him over to the Iraqi government for his execution.


© 2007 The Associated Press