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Iraqi vice president claims innocence, says terror trial was a sham
Question of the Day
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq‘s fugitive Sunni vice president on Monday declared his “absolute innocence” in a terror trial that sentenced him to death on charges of masterminding the murder of rivals, and he rejected his conviction as a politically motivated sham.
Speaking from his exile in Turkey, al-Hashemi said a fair trial would be impossible in Baghdad and accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — a Shiite and the vice president’s longtime foe — of manipulating the courts against him as part of a political vendetta.
“The verdict is unjust, politicized, illegitimate, and I will not recognize it,” al-Hashemi told reporters in the Turkish capital, Ankara. “But I put it as a medal of honor on my chest because it was al-Maliki, not anyone else, behind it. I’m proud that it is al-Maliki, and not anyone else, to target me.”
“The death sentence is a price I have to pay due to my love for my country and my loyalty to my people,” he added. “I reiterate that I’m innocent, and am ready to stand before a fair judicial system and not a corrupt one that is under al-Maliki’s influence.”
Asked directly if he will return to Baghdad within 30 days to seek a retrial, as is his right under Iraqi law, al-Hashemi said, “I’m not going, regardless of the time scale that has been offered to me.”
Al-Hashemi fled to Turkey after Iraq‘s Shiite-led government issued the terror charges against him in December, the day after U.S. troops withdrew from the country. He would receive a retrial if he agrees to return to Baghdad, but al-Hashemi has refused, saying he will never get a fair hearing in a Baghdad court.
The politically charged case sparked a government crisis and fueled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against Mr. al-Maliki, who critics say is monopolizing power.
On Sunday, Baghdad’s criminal court convicted al-Hashemi and his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, of organizing the murders of a Shiite security official and a lawyer who had refused to help the vice president’s allies in terror cases. In a third case, the two defendants were acquitted of the killing of a security officer because of a lack of evidence.
The charges were the first against al-Hashemi to go to trial among the government’s allegations that he played a role in 150 bombings, assassinations and other attacks from 2005 to 2011 — years in which the country was mired in sectarian violence that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime. Most of the attacks allegedly were carried out by al-Hashemi’s bodyguards and other employees and largely targeted government officials, security forces and Shiite pilgrims.
Sunday’s verdict was announced as Iraq reeled from a daylong pounding of bombings and shootings that left 92 people dead and more than 360 wounded in nearly two dozen attacks across the country. On Monday, in a statement posted on a militant website, al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq claimed responsibility for the wave of violence and vowed there will be more “black days ahead.”
Most of the court evidence against al-Hashemi came from 10 of his former bodyguards, who testified they were ordered by Qahtan, and then paid, to carry out killings in small groups. Qahtan managed al-Hashemi’s vice presidential office.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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