- Associated Press - Friday, June 13, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Nearly 7,000 miles from Iraq, a Wichita man continues to fight for the life of his nephew, who awaits execution in a Baghdad prison.

The case of Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi, who has spent nearly three years on death row in Iraq, has reached its final appeal in the office of Iraq’s president. He is accused of killing an Iraqi army officer.

His uncle, Musadik Mahdi, a Wichita aerospace engineer, said no one knows when a decision might be made. If the death sentence is ratified, his nephew will die on the gallows, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1kKxHRF ).

“They could do it anytime. You cannot tell what these people are thinking,” Musadik Mahdi said.

So far, attention by the human rights organization Amnesty International has kept his nephew alive, he said.

Amnesty International has generated thousands of letters and e-mails to Iraqi officials about the case. It recently issued another alert now that the appeal has reached the final stage. The hope is that more pressure from the international community will result in a pardon.

Two months ago, Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi, 33, was taken to the gallows twice just to mess with his mind, Musadik Mahdi said.

But, Mahdi said, the case has received media attention in Iraq, and the attention has helped his nephew mentally.

“He has some hope now,” Mahdi said

Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi has lost weight due to lack of food and the sweltering heat of the prison, his uncle said.

“His mom told me not even animals can live in this environment,” Musadik Mahdi said.

Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi’s mother was the only person who was allowed to see him in jail. But she has fled to Turkey after receiving threats from the family of the man her son was convicted of killing. Now only an aunt may visit him. Other family members risk arrest if they try, his uncle said.

The case began when Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi, an oil technician with a wife and two children, was arrested in his office on Jan. 15, 2010, in the murder of the officer more than a year earlier.

He proclaimed his innocence, then was held for eight months, during which he was reportedly tortured and coerced to confess, his uncle said.

The torture included being beaten with sharp objects, being kicked, being suspended by the arms with the arms pulled backward and being wounded by a drill and electric shocks to various parts of his body while he was immersed in a barrel of water.

He refused to confess until his captors threatened to rape his wife, Musadik Mahdi said.

An examination by the Forensic Medical Institute on Nov. 14, 2010, found 20 discolored wounds in various shapes on Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi’s body. Still, that evidence was tossed out of court during a sham, one-day trial on Oct. 11, 2011, Musadik Mahdi said.

His boss at an oil refinery offered proof that Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi was at work at the time of the murder, 120 kilometers from the scene of the crime. But the court threw out that evidence, too, Musadik Mahdi said.

The only witnesses against his nephew during the trial were two government-paid “secret witnesses” and the victim’s mother and sister. None of them had seen the killing.

A co-defendant who had incriminated Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi to get a lesser sentence tried to recant, but the judge threw that out as well.

Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi tried to withdraw his confession, but the judge used it to deliver the death sentence.

Osama Jamal Abdallah Mahdi is being held in Kadhimiya Prison in northern Baghdad.

Musadik Mahdi, 57, left Iraq in 1975 and has lived in Wichita for 22 years. He took over advocating for his imprisoned nephew after his brother died of cancer in Iraq in 2010.

“He told me, ‘He’s yours now. You need to carry on with his case,’ ” Mahdi said.

The responsibility weighs heavily upon him. He has appealed to politicians and media for help. He appeared on a radio show in Chicago recently with a member of Amnesty International to talk about the case.

He has tried to reach the Iraqi president, parliament, prime minister and human rights minister, but his e-mails to them often bounce back unread or with messages saying they can’t help him.

“It’s so frustrating,” Mahdi said.

Amnesty International did a study showing that Iraq has a high rate of executions. The organization documented at least 169 executions in 2013, up from at least 129 in 2012. Many prisoners are executed after convictions based on “confessions” extracted under torture, it has said.

Musadik Mahdi said his nephew’s case has become well known in Iraq because there are so many like him who have confessed under torture to crimes they didn’t commit.

“He’s like a symbol who represents maybe hundreds of prisoners,” Mahdi said.

But the tension has mounted within the Mahdi family as the case has reached its final stage.

The high court in Iraq six months ago sustained the death penalty verdict without a complete review of the case, Musadik Mahdi said.

“What kind of justice system is that?” Mahdi said.

And now the presidential appeal is shrouded in mystery. Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, is in Germany recovering from a stroke, leaving Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in charge.

Mahdi said he doesn’t know who is considering his nephew’s case or whether it is being considered at the highest level. He doesn’t know whether the entire case will be reviewed or whether the court verdict is the only thing that will be considered. And he doesn’t know when he’ll find out.

Mahdi said he tries not to let the pressure interfere with his own life in Wichita. He said he must remain determined to the end to do all he can to save his nephew.

“We’ve got to send him back to his wife and kids,” he said.


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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