Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Despite Preparations, Iraqis Botch Execution of Baathist

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's turbulent effort to reckon with its violent past took another macabre turn Monday, when the execution of Saddam Hussein's half brother ended with the hangman's noose decapitating him after he dropped through the gallows trapdoor.

An official video played to a small group of Iraqi and Western reporters more than 13 hours after the hanging showed Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, former head of Hussein's secret police, standing nervously on the trapdoor in a flame-orange jumpsuit of the kind used at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, his head and mustache shaved.

Beside him, praying feverishly in identical garb, stood the other condemned man, Awad Hamad al-Bandar, the former chief judge of Hussein's revolutionary court.

After executioners in full-face balaclavas pulled black hoods over the two men's heads, tightened nooses around their necks and pulled the lever opening the trapdoors, both fell like weights. But the hangmen's calculations of weight, gravity and the momentum needed to snap their necks -- a grim science that has produced detailed "drop charts" used for decades in hangings around the world -- appeared, in Ibrahim's case, to have gone seriously awry.

Iraqi officials said their execution procedures had been exhaustively reviewed with Western "humanitarian organizations" after the Hussein execution Dec. 30. The officials said their goal was to prevent a recurrence of those scenes, which turned Hussein, a mass murderer in the eyes of many Iraqis, into something of a sympathetic figure at his death and -- across the Arab world -- into an icon of dignity and courage.