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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to Hang

Tariq Aziz (left) and Saddam Hussein (center)
Tariq Aziz (left) and Saddam Hussein (center)
One of the most prominent figures of Saddam Hussein's regime has been sentenced to die by hanging.

Iraq's top criminal court issued the sentence Tuesday for former foreign minister Tariq Aziz (left) for his role in the persecution of Shi'ite political parties.

Aziz had been charged with helping to kill, imprison or exile leaders of the Islamic Dawa party of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The death sentence is the first for Aziz, who is already serving a 15-year prison sentence for the execution of 42 merchants in 1992. He was sentenced to another seven years for the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.

Aziz has said he is guilty of nothing more than being a loyalist. He says he, personally, committed no crime.

Aziz surrendered to U.S. troops in 2003. Saddam Hussein, his former boss, was captured in Iraq in 2003 and executed by the interim Iraqi government in 2006.

In an interview with the British Guardian newspaper earlier this year, Aziz said the U.S. invasion of Iraq had "killed" his homeland.

The Iraqi court said two other defendants in the case were also sentenced to death.

Sadoun Shakir is Iraq's former interior minister. Abed Hamoud served as Saddam Hussein's personal secretary.

Also Tuesday, a bomb targeting an Iraqi deputy planning minister wounded at least three people in Baghdad.

A separate bombing north of Baghdad killed six members of an Iraqi army patrol.

Source: VOA, October 26, 2010


Iraq Court Sentences Tariq Aziz to Death

Tariq Aziz
BAGHDAD — Tariq Aziz, a former top aide to Saddam Hussein, was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on Tuesday for crimes against members of rival Shiite political parties.

The ruling was the latest in a series of criminal cases against Mr. Aziz, 74, whose frequent media appearances and travels abroad made him the bespectacled face of Mr. Hussein’s regime. For years, Mr. Aziz served as a staunch and public defender of Mr. Hussein before the American-led invasion of 2003.

Because Mr. Hussein rarely left Iraq out of fears about his safety, Mr. Aziz represented Iraq in the diplomatic world. He surrendered to American forces shortly after the invasion, aware that, for Americans, he was among Iraq’s most hunted officials and one of the best known emblems of the Saddam Hussein era.

Mr. Aziz’s death sentence stemmed from charges of persecution against members of the religious Shiite Dawa Party, which counts Iraq’s current prime minister, Nuri Kamal-al Maliki, among its members.

It was unclear when Mr. Aziz would be executed.

One of Mr. Aziz’s lawyers, Badea Araf Azzit, said he was considering whether to appeal. He dismissed the sentence as a ploy aimed at distracting attention from Iraq’s political stalemate and the recent publication of a trove of American war records that described widespread prisoner abuse by Iraqi guards and security forces.

“It is a political judgment,” Mr. Azzit said.

Mr. Aziz’s lawyers have long claimed he was only responsible for Iraq’s diplomatic and political relations, and had no ties to the executions and purges carried out by Mr. Hussein’s Baathist government. Mr. Hussein was himself hanged in 2006, less than two months after his death sentence was handed down.

Mr. Aziz’s lawyer said he remained in poor health. In January, the American military said in a statement that he suffered a blood clot in the brain. He was taken to an American military hospital north of Baghdad for treatment.

In March 2009, Mr. Aziz was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against humanity, but he was acquitted earlier that year on charges of ordering a 1999 crackdown against Shiite protesters after a revered Shiite cleric was assassinated.

He is also serving a seven-year prison sentence for a case involving the forced displacement of Kurds in northern Iraq.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, he predicted he would die in prison, citing his old age and lengthy prison sentences.

Death sentences were also handed down on Tuesday against other former officials in Mr. Hussein’s government including Abed Hammoud, a former secretary to Mr. Hussein, and former Interior Minister Sadoon Shaker.

Under Mr. Hussein, Mr. Aziz cultivated a reputation as a cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking, worldly diplomat who used his official posts to justify the invasion of Kuwait, the efforts to obscure Mr. Hussein’s weapons program, the mass killings of Kurds and Shiites in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the use of chemical weapons at the Kurdish town of Halabja, among other things.

Only weeks before the American-led invasion in 2003, he had an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, one of dozens of encounters with world leaders.

When he surrendered to American troops in his hometown, Mosul, in northern Iraq, he apparently did so for his own safety in the face of mobs hunting down officials of the ousted government.

He was No. 43, and the eight of spades, on the Pentagon’s ”pack of cards” listing the 55 most wanted officials of Mr. Hussein’s government. American officials said that, after his surrender, Mr. Aziz offered to testify against Mr. Hussein on the condition that he be released early, a proposition eventually rejected by an Iraqi court and its American advisers.

Source: The New York Times, October 26, 2010


Tariq Aziz sentenced to death

Former deputy PM of Saddam Hussein issued with execution order by high tribunal for persecution of Islamic parties

Iraq's high tribunal has passed a death sentence on Tariq Aziz, one of deposed leader Saddam Hussein's most prominent deputies.

The death sentence, announced on Tuesday, was the first to be handed to Aziz, a former foreign minister and deputy prime minister, who was often seen as the face of Saddam's government in foreign capitals and at the UN.

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Baghdad, said that the charges against Aziz are related to a crackdown on an uprising led by Shia Muslim parties in the early 1990s.

"Among them was the party of Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, who at that time carried out an attempted coup against Saddam Hussein," she said.

Aziz, 74, was at the centre of explaining Iraq's policy in the months leading up to the first Gulf War after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and in the years after as Iraq faced sanctions and arms inspections.

In 2003, he met with Pope John-Paul II in an unsuccessful effort to avert the threat of military action by the US and its allies.

The Iraqi high tribunal was set up in 2003 to try former members of Saddam's rule.

"Aziz's lawyers have 30 days to present an appeal. The court then has another 30 days to look into that appeal," Rageh said.

"Assuming his appeal is turned down there are 30 more days before the death penalty would be carried out."

'Irrational and wrong'

Badee' Aref, Aziz's lawyer, told Al Jazeera that from a legal perspective the sentence was "unreasonable, irrational and wrong".

"It is an invalid sentence from both legal and ethical perspectives. I don't recognise this court because it sentenced Saddam Hussein to death and all the decisions it took are void because they are based on murder and assassination."

Aref said that the timing of the sentence was aimed at diverting attention away from crimes that happened in Iraq that were outlined by WikiLeaks on Saturday.

Al Jazeera has reported extensively on findings from the thousands of classified documents released by the organisation that implicate many senior Iraqi politicians.

"Before the court passes any death sentences it informs us a month before the date of the sentence. They didn't this time," Aref said.

"I was told by my sources inside the court that three of the judges do not approve of the sentence and were forced to sign it."

After US forces entered Baghdad in April 2003, Aziz was number 43 on the list of the 55 most wanted Iraqi senior officials.

He turned himself in to US forces on April 25 and has been in their custody ever since.

Poor health

Aziz was brought to trial on April 29, 2008 and accused of signing an order for the execution of 42 merchants who allegedly manipulated food prices in July 1992 at the height of the country's economic downturn under UN sanctions. He has denied the charges.

Prosecutors had also hoped that Aziz, who is a Christian, would testify against Saddam, but the former foreign minister refused to condemn his one-time boss and continued to refer to him as "the president".

Aziz's family say his health has deteriorated considerably since he suffered a stroke prior to the US invasion. Senior members of Iraq's Assyrian Church have called on US forces to release him.

His lawyer confirmed that he was in poor health and in deep shock and astonishment.

"The sentence was a big blow to him and he is still under the effect of the shock, a matter that could end his life before he is executed."

On March 11, 2009 an Iraqi court found him guilty of the July 1992 executions and handed him a 15-year sentence.

Source: Al Jazeera, agencies, October 26, 2010

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