The former Iraqi General Ali Hassan al-Majeed, known to the world as “Chemical Ali,” has received his second death penalty from an Iraqi court, Chemical Ali faces death by hanging for his role in the mass murder of his own people.
The death penalty against Chemical Ali stems from his participation in the mass murder of between twenty thousand and a hundred thousand Iraqi Shiites during an uprising in southern Iraq in 1991 in the wake of the First Gulf War. Fourteen other former Saddam Hussein era government officials were also sentenced by the court. Three were acquitted.
Chemical Ali is also under sentence of death for his role in the Anfal campaign in northern Iraq in the late 1980s, in which at least 100,000 Iraqi Kurds were slaughtered. Ali Hassan al-Majeed conducted an attack on the village of Halabja with chemical weapons, killing five thousand people and thus earning his nickname. Chemical Ali’s first death sentence has become mired in political wrangling.
The Iraqi court, formed in 2003 shortly after the liberation of Iraq, has already sentenced numerous former Saddam Hussein era officials to terms in jail or death. These include Saddam Hussein himself, who was hanged in December, 2006 for crimes against humanity in the murder of 148 Shiites in the wake of a 1982 assassination attempt. Pending appeal, Chemical Ali faces a similar fate.
The trials of former Saddam Hussein era Iraqi government officials is seen as the most important of its kind since the Nuremberg trials that punished Nazis for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the wake of World War Two. The difference is that unlike the Nuremberg trials, which were conducted by the victorious powers, the trials in Iraq are being conducted by the Iraqis themselves, with American and other legal experts only in an advisory role. The trials have constituted one of the first tests of whether Iraqi people can run a functioning democracy in which the rule of law and not the whim of a dictator is followed and respected.
The trials in Iraq are not without controversy. Sunni Iraqis complain about the treatment of some of the prisoners, including Saddam Hussein himself during his hanging, recorded on the Internet. Some human rights groups, especially in Europe, are uncomfortable about the imposition of the death penalty.
One suspects that those on trial, including Chemical Ali, are not very happy either. They could not have imagined that their fate would be a judicial one, with the rule of law followed. If they imagined a violent death at all, it would have involved being gunned down in a coup, the fate of many Iraqi leaders since the overthrow of the monarchy in the 1950s.
There is one other good thing about the trials in Iraq. It might provide an object lesson to dictators and human rights violators in other countries. They too might find themselves at the end of a rope, just as Saddam Hussein did and, pending appeal, Chemical Ali will.
Source: Chemical Ali sentenced — again — to death, Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, December 2nd, 2008