BAGHDAD, Iraq - The scene was at once macabre and riveting.
One of the most notorious dictators of the late 20th century, his hands bound
behind him, was led up the stairs of the gallows by masked men in leather coats.
A few seconds later, a trapdoor snapped open and - with a crash - the
tyrant was dead.
Saddam may have been the first chief of state executed in the age of the
Internet and the camera phone. Probably because of that, his death was
graphically documented on video, and available worldwide, within hours.
This was not a Hollywood version of an execution: in video aired on Iraqi TV
and several Web sites, the former strongman did not plead for his life, nor did
he violently resist the executioners who slipped the rope around his neck. State
television did not broadcast footage of the actual hanging.
But camera phone video, posted in full or in part on several Arabic language
Web sites, picked up where the TV coverage left off. In it, Saddam was taunted
in the final seconds leading up to his execution, and appeared to have smiled at
his tormentors. While the sentence was carried out, he calmly recited verses
from the Quran in a clear voice.
Finally, Saddam's body can be seen swinging in the dim light - his neck
One of the most striking things about the grisly videos, perhaps, was how
calmly and cooperatively the tyrant faced death.
Saddam had reportedly asked that, as Iraq's commander in chief, he be sent
before a firing squad. Instead, he was condemned to die on the gallows - as
though he were a garden variety Iraqi thug or criminal.
When the time came, before dawn in Baghdad, Saddam did not wear his familiar
military uniform with its jaunty beret but a black coat over a white shirt,
black trousers and black shoes. His jet black hair was carefully combed, his
salt-and-pepper beard neatly clipped.
The 69-year-old Saddam struggled briefly when US military guards handed him
over to his Iraqi executioners, said Sami al-Askari, a political adviser to
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it was apparently his last effort at
Saddam was taken to a former military intelligence headquarters in Baghdad's
Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, in northern Baghdad. During his regime, he had
numerous dissidents executed in the facility.
Munir Haddad, an appeals court judge who witnessed the hanging, told the
British Broadcasting Corp. Saddam was not sedated.
"Not at all, Saddam was normal and in full control," Haddad said. "He was
aware of his fate and he knew he was about to face death. He said 'This is my
end, this is the end of my life, but I started my life as a fighter and as a
political militant so death does not frighten me.'"