Friday, August 25, 2006

Notes on the reports of death sentences against nine defendants convicted of multiple crimes in Najaf

"I would suggest that barbarism be considered as a permanent and universal human characteristic which becomes more or less pronounced according to the play of circumstances." - Simone Weil

There's a story linked at today's Today in Iraq about death sentences handed down by the court in Najaf, if you follow the links you wind eventually up at this (English language) August 22nd story from the Kuwaiti News Agency "Iraqi court issues death sentences against nine in Najaf." I don't believe a word of it. I'm going to quote the whole thing:

" BAGHDAD, Aug 22 (KUNA) -- An Iraqi court on Tuesday issued death sentences against nine people charged with terrorism, manslaughter and looting-related crimes in a number of towns.

A spokesman in the Central Criminal court in Najaf said that beheading sentences were issued against nine suspects who have been indicted while 18 others were given life sentences.

A judicial source told reporters that crimes in the governorate of Najaf have jumped during the past eight months compared to last year.

He said that nearly 407 crimes have been committed during the first eight month of 2006 compared with 447 crimes last year. " (KUNA emphasis added - mfi)

Before I go further a declaration of interest; I'm adamantly opposed to the death penalty. I regard it as barbaric. I regard legal systems such as that in the USA which encourage and use it as neither more nor less than organised retribution masquerading as "law." It brings the law into disrepute and the judiciary down to the same level as a criminal guilty of murder for purposes of revenge:

Something else needs to be said at the outset. I don't regard KUNA as a reliable news source. I'll link to them, I'll quote them, but I never ever use something from them without first crosschecking it against (preferably) multiple sources. Never, if I can't crosscheck something from KUNA with other sources then I don't use it, ever.

So let's check that story against Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed which is a reliable (and Iraqi) source. They covered this story here [Arabic Language] here's a screenshot of the article:

Screen shot of article in al-Sabah al-Jadeed

The key information is in the first paragraph:

" وقال متحدث باسم المحكمة الجنائية المركزية في محافظة النجف: ان أحكاما بالاعدام شنقا حتى الموت صدرت على تسعة متهمين تمت ادانتهم في حين حكم بالسجن مدى الحياة على ستة اخرين والسجن المؤبد على 12 اخرين. "

The article is quoting a spokesman for the Central criminal court in Najaf as saying that 9 convicted defendants were sentenced to be hanged to death. "وقال متحدث باسم المحكمة الجنائية المركزية في محافظة النجف: ان أحكاما بالاعدام شنقا حتى الموت " there's absolutely no mention anywhere of beheading (life sentences were handed down to 12 others, all the defendants were convicted of terrorism, murder, and looting in the Eastern Euphrates region.) The second and third paragraphs are background information from the Court official ("Judicial associate" is the term used) briefing journalists that:

  1. There has been a marked increase in serious crime in Najaf in the first eight months of this year.
  2. That the rise in serious criminality is shown by the fact that thus far 407 crimes consisting variously of murder, robbery, theft, armed assault, swindling, and forgery have been carried out in the region while only 407 such crimes were reported in the region as a whole for all of last year.

Knowing what the hell you're talking about is important I don't believe the KUNA journalist did know what the hell he was talking about. So here goes:

  1. The Central Criminal courts in Iraq currently operating in Iraq were established by the Americans. Specifically they were established by the Bremer regime and still operate under the various orders establishing them the latest of which is CPA Order 13 as amended and promugated on April 22nd 2004 [pdf].
  2. As a means of putting somebody to death beheading in the Middle East is confined to:
    • Saudi Arabia.
    • Qatar.
    • Kuwait.
    • Yemen.

    Note that all three country's are heavily influenced by that branch of Sunni reformist theological thought properly called "Muwahhidun" and often wrongly referred to in the West as "Wahabbism."

  3. There are reports that there was one beheading in Iran in 2000 and another in 2003. The practise is theologically controversial in Iran and also in Iraq.

    In Iran (and throughout the Middle East) the most common way of carrying out a death sentence is death by hanging. The hanging is performed by hoisting rather than the "drop" method and is often preceded by a flogging. Iranian courts also impose sentences of death by stoning.

  4. It is more than ordinarily probable that were the Sharia to be established as the law of the land in Iraq, which at present it is not, that Iraqi judges would consider the Iranian sentencing model as a theologically reliable precedent, I cannot imagine any circumstances whatsoever in which an Iraqi court would follow the Muwahhidun inspired judicial practices of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, or Yemen. Neither can any Iraqi including several theologians to whom I wrote urgently asking about this today.

The kindest interpretation I can put on the report from KUNA is that a harried Kuwaiti stringer wrongly assumed that the Iraqi code was the same as that in Kuwait. This defies belief. I have no idea why anybody would believe what was written in that KUNA news story.


* Note to American Readers: I'm a very typical Catholic in this respect. The Church opposes the death penalty and Catholic activist groups actively campaign against the death penalty, Catholic action for example has organised campaigns against it since the 50s. You can't be "pro-life" and "pro-death penalty" at the same time. Think about it.

This isn't open to negotiation or dialogue if you support the death penalty don't bother leaving a comment in response to this posting. I long ago gave up "discussing" the death penalty with American "Christians" unable to contain their masturbatory glee at the prospect of somebody being killed "legally." If you do leave such a comment I'll rewrite it to reflect my contempt for the death penalty and for you personally and publish it under your name. - mfi

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