Saddam's Final Moments

In this television screen grab taken from Iraqi national television station Al-iraqia, a video shows the moments leading up to the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein standing on the gallows as he prepared for hanging, on December 30, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. The former Iraqi president was executed by hanging at 0600 (0300 GMT) in a secure facility in the Northern Baghdad suburb of Khadimeya. Al-iraqia via Getty Images

The scene was at once macabre and riveting.

One of the most notorious dictators of the late 20th century, his hands bound behind him, was led up the stairs of the gallows by masked men in leather coats. A few seconds later, a trapdoor snapped open and — with a crash — Saddam was dead.

He may have been the first chief of state executed in the age of the Internet and the camera phone. Probably because of that, his death was graphically documented on video, and available worldwide, within hours.

By several accounts, Saddam was calm but scornful of his captors, exchanging taunts and accusations with the crowd gathered to watch him die — insisting that he was Iraq's savior, not its tyrant and scourge.

State television did not broadcast footage of the actual hanging. But camera phone video, posted in full or in part on several Web sites, picked up where the TV coverage left off.

In the videos, Saddam calmly recited verses from the Quran in a calm, clear voice as the trap door opened.

Finally, his body can be seen swinging in the dim light — his neck apparently snapped.

Saddam had reportedly asked that, as Iraq's commander in chief, he be sent before a firing squad. Instead, he was condemned to die on the gallows — as though he were a garden variety murderer.

The 69-year-old former president struggled briefly as the U.S. military, which had custody of Saddam, handed him over to the Iraqis, said Sami al-Askari, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Saddam did not wear his familiar military uniform with its jaunty beret but a black coat over a white shirt, black trousers and black shoes. His jet black hair was carefully combed, his salt-and-pepper beard neatly clipped.

From that moment on, his last acts of defiance, it seems, consisted of verbal jousting and silent contempt.

Saddam was taken to a former military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, in northern Baghdad. During his regime, he had numerous dissidents executed in the facility.

Munir Haddad, an appeals court judge who witnessed the hanging, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Saddam was not sedated.

"Not at all, Saddam was normal and in full control," Haddad said. "He was aware of his fate and he knew he was about to face death. He said, 'This is my end, this is the end of my life, but I started my life as a fighter and as a political militant so death does not frighten me."'

After his captors brought Saddam into the execution chamber, his hands — which were tied in front of him — were untied, then tied in the back, Haddad told the BBC.

"He said we are going to heaven and our enemies will rot in hell and he also called for forgiveness and love among Iraqis but also stressed that the Iraqis should fight the Americans and the Persians," Haddad told the BBC.

The New York Times reported that Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser for Iraq, stood next to Saddam before he mounted the scaffold, and asked him if he felt remorse and fear.

"No," the Times quoted Saddam saying. "I am a militant and I have no fear for myself. I have spent my life in jihad and fighting aggression. Anyone who takes this route should not be afraid."

Al-Rubaie told the Times that one of the guards grew angry. "You have destroyed us," he reportedly shouted. "You have killed us. You have made us live in destitution."

"I have saved you from destitution and misery and destroyed your enemies, the Persian and Americans," Saddam responded, al-Rubaie told the Times.

"God damn you," the guard said.

"God damn you," Saddam said, according to the Times.



A silent, minute-long video that aired on Iraqi television showed Saddam on the scaffold. He seemed to have little to say, and his eyes appeared lost in a 1,000-yard stare.

Four or five burly men guided him gently but firmly toward a red metal railing marking the trap door. A thick rope hung like a sinister vine from the low ceiling. An unseen photographer's flash created fleeting stark shadows.

With a blank expression, Saddam refused a black hood — but he did so with a shake of his head that seemed more distracted than defiant.

Then he appeared to agree to let one of his executioners tie a black scarf around his neck. The Times reported that his guards explained the rope could cut off his head, and offered to protect his neck with the scarf.

In the televised video, Saddam stood stoically as the noose was slipped over his head. The noose was tightened. Then the Iraqi TV footage ended.

But the camera phone video, broadcast in part on Al-Jazeera and aired in full on Arabic-language Web sites, continued.

In the video, one of those attending the execution called out praise for Dawa Party founder and Shiite cleric Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, who was executed along with his sister by Saddam in 1980. The Islamic party has been locked in a fierce decades-old battle with Saddam's now outlawed secular Baath party. Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful and radical Shiite cleric in Iraq, is a distant relative of the Dawa founder.

Saddam appeared to smile at those taunting him from below the gallows, and said they were not showing their manhood.

Then Saddam began reciting the "Shahada," a Muslim prayer that says there is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger.

"Saddam did so but with sarcasm," Haddad said. But to others, Saddam's tone sounded calm and measured, neither sarcastic nor frightened.

Saddam made it to midway through his second recitation of the verse. His last word was Muhammad, according to a translation by the Associated Press.

The floor dropped out of the gallows, there was a crash and the chamber erupted in shouting.

"The tyrant has fallen," someone called. The video showed a close-up of Saddam's face as he swung from the rope.

Then came another voice: "Let him swing for three minutes."

Asked if Saddam suffered, Haddad told the BBC: "He was killed instantly, I witnessed the impact of the rope around his neck and it was a horrible sight."

Iraqi television broadcasts included a shaky image of the aftermath: a shot of what appeared to be Saddam's corpse, laid out on a hospital gurney, his head wrenched grotesquely to the right. His neck appeared to be bruised.

Saddam's half brother Barzan Ibrahim and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court, were originally scheduled to be hanged along with their former leader.

Iraqi officials, though, decided to reserve the occasion for Saddam alone.

  • John Esterbrook

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