By Ahmed Rasheed 18 minutes ago
The Iraqi High Court ruled on Monday that Saddam Hussein's former vice president should follow him to the gallows, despite appeals from UN officials and international human rights groups for his life to be spared.
"I swear by God almighty that I am innocent and he will take revenge on everyone who oppressed me," Taha Yassin Ramadan said after he was sentenced to death by hanging for his role in the killing of 148 Shi'ites in the town of Dujail in the 1980s.
Ramadan was sentenced in November to life in jail for the killings, for which Saddam and two former aides have already been hanged. But an appeals court recommended that he receive the death penalty and referred the case back to the trial court.
"In the name of the people the court decided ... to sentence the convicted, Taha Yassin Ramadan, to death by hanging for committing the crime of willful killing as a crime against humanity," judge Ali al-Kahachi said.
Ramadan, in his 60s and wearing thick-rimmed black spectacles and traditional Arab robes and red-checkered headdress, showed no emotion as the ruling, which can be appealed, was read out.
New York-based Human Rights Watch, which raised concerns about the fairness of the original trial, urged the court on Sunday not to impose the death penalty, saying there had been a lack of evidence tying Ramadan to the Dujail killings.
The trial court in November found Ramadan guilty of issuing orders for the systematic killing, detention and torture of men, women and children from Dujail following an attempt on Saddam's life there in 1982.
"God knows I didn't do anything wrong. All the witnesses confirmed they did not see me in Dujail," Ramadan told the court on Monday when asked if he had any final remarks before the ruling was delivered.
United Nations human rights chief Louise Arbour last week urged the court to spare Ramadan's life, saying a death sentence would break international law.
Saddam's execution in December sparked anger among fellow Sunnis, who were outraged by an illicit video showing the ousted leader being hanged to sectarian taunts from official observers. His half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was executed two weeks later in a botched hanging in which he was decapitated.
Ramadan and Saddam's former deputy Izzat Ibrahim, now believed by Iraqi officials to be in Syria or Yemen, are the sole survivors of the plotters of the 1968 coup that returned the Baath party to power.
Ramadan, a hawkish member of Saddam's inner circle, was trusted by the Iraqi leader to carry out his orders to crush dissent and put down revolts.
When made industry minister in the 1970s, he reportedly told colleagues: "I don't know anything about industry. All I know is that anyone who doesn't work hard will be executed."