Death penalty sought for Egypt's Hosni Mubarak

Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is wheeled on a stretcher into court for his murder trial in Cairo Jan. 5, 2012.
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Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET

CAIRO - Prosecutors on Thursday called for Hosni Mubarak to be hanged, saying he bore full responsibility for the killing of protesters during the uprising against him, in a courtroom moment unthinkable barely a year ago when the longtime leader held unquestioned power.

The demand for the death penalty at the 83-year-old former president's trial played to the widespread resentment of Mubarak among Egyptians who hoped that punishment for his oppressive rule would be fruit of the Arab Spring.

Still, some of the activists who helped topple him are skeptical the sentence would ever be carried out, if he is convicted. A conviction would be followed by a possibly lengthy appeals process that the ailing Mubarak's lawyer would likely draw out, and Egypt's new rulers — the military — have the power to veto a death sentence.

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Mubarak has been brought to every hearing since his trial began on Aug. 3 on a hospital gurney, wheeled into the courtroom cage where defendants are held, alongside his two sons, former security chief and six top police commanders.

On Thursday, prosecutor Mustafa Khater gave a passionate speech demanding the death penalty for Mubarak, former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and four of the police commanders. They are charged with complicity in the deaths of some 800 protesters during the 18-day uprising that led to Mubarak's fall on Feb. 11.

"Retribution is the solution. Any fair judge must issue a death sentence for these defendants," said Khater, one of five prosecutors in the case.

"We feel the spirits of the martyrs flying over this hall of sacred justice, and those who lost their sight by the bullets of the defendants are stumbling around it to reach the judge and demand fair retribution from those who attacked them," he said. "The nation and the people are awaiting a word of justice and righteousness."

For separate corruption charges leveled against Mubarak, his sons Alaa and Gamal and a close family friend on the run, Khater demanded unspecified prison sentences with hard labor. Two police commanders charged with gross negligence face prison terms.

Khater's speech came on the last of three days of sessions in which the prosecution laid out its case, following months of testimony by witnesses, aiming to show that Mubarak and el-Adly — who was in charge of the police — ordered security forces to use deadly force against protesters.

Chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman said earlier in Thursday's session that Mubarak was "politically and legally" responsible for the killing of the protesters. He charged that Mubarak was aware from meetings with aides, regional TV channels and reports by his security agencies that the killings were taking place but did nothing to stop them.

El-Adly authorized the use of live ammunition on orders from Mubarak, he said. "He (Mubarak) can never, as the top official, claim that he did not know what was going on," Suleiman told the court.

"He is responsible for what happened and must bear the legal and political responsibility for what happened. It is irrational and illogical to assume that he did not know that protesters were being targeted."

Addressing Mubarak directly, Suleiman said, "If you had not issued these orders yourself, then where was your outburst of rage over the loss of the lives of your people?"

The trial's presiding judge, Ahmed Rifaat, adjourned the hearings until Monday, the first of two days he said would be assigned to the lawyers for the victims' families to state their case. Next would be the turn of the defense for all 11 defendants.

The timeline has led to speculation in the courtroom that Rifaat wanted to wrap up the case and issue a verdict before Jan. 25, the first anniversary of the start of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule. The youth groups behind the uprising are planning mass protests across the nation, not to celebrate the day, but to demand that the generals who took over from Mubarak step down.

"It will not be a second revolution as some are saying," prominent protest leader Shadi Ghazali Harb said. "The first revolution is not over yet. On January 25 we will continue our struggle on a special day. "

Harb, like other activists, suspects that a death sentence may be announced before Jan. 25, but only to appease the revolutionaries who maintain that Mubarak and his two sons were only arrested and brought to trial after a series of mass protests that followed Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster. The Mubaraks were arrested in April.

Harb said he was skeptical a death sentence would be carried out.

"It will be a political sentence that will most likely be overturned on appeal," Harb said.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refused to comment on the death penalty request. "The international community is looking to Egypt to set a high standard with this trial and with other procedures going forward now," she said.