AMMAN, Jordan – Hundreds of Iraqis have offered to act as hangman in the execution of Saddam Hussein, according to senior officials in the Baghdad Government.
Some requests have been e-mailed to the office of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, from around the world. Mr. al-Maliki has also been directly petitioned by government officials who want to place the noose around Saddam’s neck.
Many ordinary Justice Ministry employees are too terrified to carry out an execution, fearing reprisals from the dead man’s family. Those who do volunteer to act as the executioner may well have lost a relative to violence in the post-Saddam era or had a relative killed by Saddam’s regime.
Saddam lost his appeal on Tuesday against the death sentence for killing 148 Shia from the village of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt. In a letter published on a website yesterday he vowed to go to the gallows a true martyr and said he was ready to die as a sacrifice for his country.
The ruling, from a nine-judge appeals court, requires Saddam to be killed within 30 days. The timing remains uncertain, although preparations are likely to be interrupted by the four-day religious holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins at the weekend.
The machinery for the execution is in place because about 90 prisoners, both Sunni and Shia, have been executed in Iraq since 2004. Saddam is likely to be led to the gallows dressed in an orange prison uniform, his head covered by a cone-shaped black hood.
Saddam, who is being held in a high-security prison in the confines of the Baghdad airport compound, will begin his final hours before a panel of three or four judges. According to an Iraqi government official who has witnessed state executions, one of the judges informs the prisoner that he has the right to write a will and leave letters for relatives. The judges will ask him if he wants to confess to anything or ask forgiveness.
The inmate is then led to a special cell called the waiting room to prepare for his death. He can pray, drink water, smoke cigarettes, work on his will, write instruction on where he should be buried and leave letters for his relatives. The guards will also bring him his last meal. “The prisoners will try to drag it out three or four hours but then finally they just want to get it done,” the official said. “Sometimes, they have pushed it back a day.”
When the prisoner is ready, three or four guards place the hood over his face, guide him to the gallows chamber and lead him up about eight steps on to a metal platform where the hangman waits. The hangman also wears a black hood, which has slits for his eyes.
He lowers the noose around the prisoner’s head. The hangman shifts a lever and a metal trap door screeches open. Otherwise, there is only silence as the man drops 15ft through the trap door. “He dies immediately, so he does not suffer. A doctor comes and checks the heartbeat to make sure he is dead. They lower the body to the ground and cover it with a white cloth, put it on a stretcher and then it is taken to the hospital,” the official said.
Although Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, are buried in the family’s tribal cemetery near Tikrit, it is unclear what will happen to his body. He may be buried in secret to prevent the site becoming a scene of reverence or retribution.