Wichita man hopes to save nephew from execution in Iraq
By Fred Mann | The Wichita Eagle | Published: July 6, 2013
WICHITA, Kan. — His nephew awaits execution in an Iraqi prison.
Sometimes he has a nightmare that the execution already has taken place.
Musadik Mahdi, a Wichita aerospace engineer, is doing all he can to save the life of his nephew, Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi, but he doesn’t know how much time is left.
His nephew is in a high-risk prison where executions can take place on a whim.
“It could happen any minute,” Musadik Mahdi says.
Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi is a 32-year-old oil technician with a wife and two children. He was convicted of a crime he says he didn’t commit — the killing of an Iraqi army officer, who died Nov. 26, 2008, when an explosive device was planted in his car.
Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi wasn’t arrested until Jan. 15, 2010. He proclaimed his innocence, then was held for about eight months, during which he was reportedly tortured and coerced to confess, his uncle says.
The torture included beating with sharp objects, kicking, 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, Musadik Mahdi says.
According to Amnesty International, a human-rights organization that has taken up Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi’s cause and issued a report on the case, an examination by the Forensic Medical Institute on Nov. 14, 2010, found 20 discolored wounds in various shapes on his body, with their sizes varying from 1½ to 5.3 centimeters.
He was tried on Oct. 26, 2011. The trial lasted only one day.
There were two government-paid “secret witnesses” against him, and the victim’s mother and sister, his uncle said. None of the witnesses saw the killing.
A co-defendant, who also originally had proclaimed his innocence and later confessed under torture, then withdrew the confession, incriminated Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi, and received a life sentence.
At his trial, he tried to withdraw his confession, but the judge used it to deliver a sentence of death.
Musadik Mahdi says his nephew’s boss at an oil refinery near the Green Zone in Baghdad provided proof that his nephew was at work at the time of the murder, but the court threw this evidence out. The judge also tossed aside the forensic report detailing his nephew’s injuries under torture.
Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi is being held in the Nasseriya Central Prison in the Dhi Qar governorate in southern Iraq.
Musadik Mahdi had taken over the welfare of his nephew after his brother died of cancer in Iraq in 2010. His brother learned he had cancer about the same time Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi was arrested, and spent the next year working on his son’s case rather than receiving medical treatment, Musadik Mahdi says.
Mahdi says his nephew’s mother last saw her son about three months ago. The prison is far from her home. She said her son was in very bad shape. The prison forces inmates outside into the 100-degree sun, and starves them, Musadik Mahdi says.
Osama Jamal ‘Adallah Mahdi not only lost his father to cancer while incarcerated, his mother has developed health issues due to stress over her son’s arrest, including high blood pressure and diabetes, Musadik Mahdi says.
Mahdi says his nephew is very nice and wouldn’t hurt anyone. When his mother told him once that ants had invaded their home, Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi didn’t want the ants to be killed.
“Can you imagine someone like that planting a bomb in someone’s car?” Musadik Mahdi says. “He’s very calm, very quiet, and a very good kid.”
His nephew had just bought a lot for a new home for his family, and wouldn’t have done anything to risk his future, his uncle says. Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi’s wife and young sons, ages 3 to 5, shuffle for shelter among relatives in Iraq while he is in prison.
Musadik Mahdi, 57, left Iraq in 1975 and has lived in Wichita for 22 years. He got out due to the corruption in Iraq, he says. He had hoped America’s involvement would produce democracy in his native country, but he has seen its court system become as corrupt as ever.
The case of Mahdi’s nephew isn’t uncommon in Iraq.
Carsten Jurgensen, a researcher for Amnesty International, says in an e-mail to The Eagle: “We have documented scores of cases of prisoners on death row who have been convicted after trials where international fair trial standards have been frequently and systematically violated. Many prisoners reported that they had been coerced to make self-incriminating statements in detention and have repudiated such ‘confessions’ at trials. However, Iraqi criminal courts have frequently accepted the ‘confessions’ as evidence despite their repudiation, and used them as a basis for a conviction.”
Under Iraq law, a death sentence must be reviewed by a higher court, but that court may decide the case on a review of the court verdict and dossiers and is not required to re-examine the evidence, although it may if it thinks that’s required, according to Amnesty International.
Once a death sentence has been confirmed by the court, it must be sent to the president to decide whether the defendant should be executed, have his sentence commuted to a lesser sentence, or be pardoned.
Musadik Mahdi says neither of those extra steps required by law took place in his nephew’s case.
Amnesty International says Iraq has a high rate of executions. Hundreds of prisoners are currently held on death row. A sharp rise in executions was recorded in Iraq in 2012, making it the country with the third-highest number of executions in the world. At least 129 people were executed in 2012, almost twice the known total for 2011, according to Amnesty International.
During the first four months of 2013, at least 40 people were executed, the organization says.
Jurgensen says Amnesty International will continue to appeal on Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi’s behalf. Musadik Mahdi, who learned of the death sentence only three months ago, has tried to appeal to the Iraqi president, parliament, prime minister and human rights minister. It is frustrating because his e-mails often bounce back to him unread, or with messages saying they can’t help him, he says. He also has appealed to the U.N. Refugee Agency.
Recently, he has contacted the offices of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas in hopes that American officials still have some influence on the Iraqi government.
Mahdi says he even tried to contact actress Angelina Jolie, who has connections in Iraq and has been active on behalf of prisoners in that country, but said he was rebuffed by one of her managers.
His goal, he says, is to stop the execution, and get a new investigation into the killing of the army officer and a new trial for his nephew.
Meanwhile, the ordeal has placed stress on Musadik Mahdi, who is married with three teenage children.
“It’s very challenging,” he says. “I have hope now after I saw the Amnesty International report. I see the light at the end of the tunnel.”