Amid Violence and Barbarism, Justice Prevails

Dispatches From Iraq

Amid Violence and Barbarism, Justice Prevails

Dispatches From Iraq

Amid Violence and Barbarism, Justice Prevails
Notes from different corners of the world.
Jan. 6 2004 12:25 PM

Dispatches From Iraq

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Court stenographer Sheima Ismail explained the procedures: police report, signed witness statements, statement of the accused, preliminary judge's report. She flourished her bejeweled fingers, illustrating in the air the difference between primary testimony and judicial review.

"It is an unusual case today," she said, and just then the arresting policeman came in and announced the two accused men had arrived.

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The defendants that morning were two brothers, Sami and Kassim Hussein. They were charged with murdering their father; their stepmother; three of their half-brothers: Imad, 25, Salam, 23, Ali, 20; and a half-sister, Mehad, 18.

Six people?

"Seven, because the stepmother was pregnant," said Capt. Thamer, a tough, wiry, smiling, efficient sort of policeman. "I was there at the scene of the crime—their house. I saw pieces—they used grenades. The father and his wife were killed with a BKC [heavy machine gun] and then a grenade was thrown in. After we collected the heads and the legs, we found there was one body missing."

A fourth half-brother, Ayad, had been blown under a cupboard by the grenade blast, and, wounded, he managed to escape from the house.

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"God wanted him to survive," added Capt. Thamer. It was a miracle.

The courtroom was partially wood-paneled. Three judges, each wearing a suit and tie under black judgely robes, metal-framed reading glasses, steel hair, and an overturned smile, sat at the bench. A prosecuting lawyer and a court-appointed defender sat on either side of them. As the senior judge questioned the witnesses, the prosecutor made a few interjections. The defender said nothing except that he hoped the sentence would be fair.

The accused stood before the judges: two unremarkable men. One wore a beige track suit with the word "Internet" embroidered on the back. The other wore a grimy orange football jersey, a pair of worn track-suit bottoms, and a leather jacket. They stood and listened to the testimony of their surviving half-brother Ayad with their hands clasped behind their backs. Ayad told the judge how he had woken to the sound of an explosion in the room where he was sleeping with his three brothers and his sister and had seen Sami and Kassim standing in the door, one holding a BKC, the other a Kalashnikov.

"They shot at us in the room. They tried to turn on the lights to see if we were dead, but the light was broken from the grenade explosion."

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After his statement, Ayad stood at the back of the courtroom and ran his hand over his face, coal eyes burning anger and defeat at the tragedy.

The accused brothers had decided that Kassim would take the blame, admit his guilt, and say he had acted alone, while Sami would say that he had been tortured by the police into making a false confession and plead his own innocence.

Kassim told the judge how he had killed his family in ordinary words strung together without emotional inflection.

"At 4 a.m., I went to their room and killed them. I threw a grenade in the room where my brothers were. Then I went to my father's room and I shot him and his wife. Then I went to my brothers' room again and threw in the second grenade."

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The judge asked him why he had done this.

"He always differentiated between us. He registered the car in another brother's name. He used to hit us."

Abbas, the neighbor whose son had taken Ayad to the hospital on the night of the attack, said there were problems in the family: problems between the sons of the first wife and those of the more favored second wife, between two sons and a probably cruel and overbearing father, all in a house with only four rooms.

"It was hatred," said Ayad outside the courtroom, "jealousy of the family of the second wife. They wanted to keep everything for themselves."

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The family came from a farming background in a village called Diala Bridge, a few miles outside the capital. Sami and Kassim were not educated, they worked from time to time, sometimes they stole a little, one had been in the Republican Guard. It seemed they had picked up the grenades and the weapons after the war, when such things were lying about.

"They took advantage of the situation, the lack of law," said Capt. Thamer. "Now there is a lot of this kind of thing. It is all complicated now, so many parties and they cannot organize anything. It was better when Saddam controlled everything."

The trial took about an hour and a half. The case seemed clear enough. Ayad testified compellingly; Abbas the neighbor said that he had heard gunfire that night, between the sounds of American helicopters. Another neighbor who knew the accused agreed that their father deprived Sami and Kassim, controlled them, and was unreasonable.

In the recess before sentencing, Ayad and his grandmother, the mother of the murdered wife, said they were satisfied with the process.

"I want what is right," said the grandmother, pulling her black abaya to her blue tattooed chin, "I want my grandsons' blood back. I hope they are executed."

The defense lawyer, Louai Al Ali, believed justice was being done. He said his role was difficult. "I cannot defend such a crime."

What about Sami Hussein?

"During the investigation, he confessed, and it is only now he is pleading innocent," the lawyer explained, quite clear about the truth of the matter. "I follow the Quran. It says that if a confession is made, that is it. What the accused said inside the court is just what they planned together in prison; they made a deal. I have been a lawyer for 30 years, and I know these things."

The judges were similarly unimpressed by Sami Hussein's profession of innocence. The assembled—witnesses, lawyers, policemen, and spectators—were called back into the courtroom for the verdict.

"According to the law in the past, you would have been executed. But the Governing Council has commuted this, so you are each sentenced to life six times."

Capt. Thamer tied the two brothers' wrists together with a shoelace and led them back into the green holding cell. The two of them stood behind bars in the manner of just-sentenced criminals.

Sami looked thin, concave, dark, and worn. Kassim was stockier and as deadpan as he had been in front of the judge.

He said he was sorry it had happened, but went on: "I did it. I admit it. I say this openly. I did it easily. I threw the grenades." Still, he remained unrepentant; his father had been a bad man.

"He took our car and gave it to the youngest brother. He refused to let us out of the house. We worked and gave him our money. He just sat at home and took the money."

"We feel he deserved this," agreed Sami.

While they spent four months in remand in the police station jail in Diala Bridge, their mother, who now lives in the dead family's house with her two daughters, visited them.

"She also said they deserved it," said Kassim.

He had expected to be executed. He was relieved. He said he would go to prison and pray and fast there and leave the rest to God.

"God is forgiving," he said. "I did what I did."