Osama Jamal ‘Abdallah Mahdi, a 32-year-old father of two, has now spent more than two years on death row in Iraq for a crime he says he didn’t commit.
His uncle is now his only hope. From his home in Wichita, Kansas, USA, more than 11,000km away, Musadik Mahdi is spearheading a campaign for his nephew’s release.
The Iraqi born engineer has contacted Congressmen, diplomats, the media and NGOs, including Amnesty International, in an attempt to get Osama’s conviction overturned. And time is running out – Musadik fears that Osama could be dragged to the gallows any day now.
“I spoke to his mother just a few days ago and she is destroyed. She keeps begging me to do something. He seems to be in very bad shape, with very little to eat. The situation is so critical he could be executed any minute now, unless the Office of the Presidency decides otherwise,” Musadik said.
The nightmare began on 15 January 2010, when Osama, then an oil technician working in Baghdad, was arrested at his office, accused of killing an Iraqi army officer more than a year earlier.
He was kept in a secret detention centre. His relatives said he was beaten with sharp objects, kicked, suspended by his arms, injured with a drill and given electric shocks all over his body to make him “confess” to the crime.
The evidence in support of Osama seems overwhelming. His boss said he was at work at the time of the killing; 120 Kilometres from where the crime took place. A co-defendant who had initially testified against him, later withdrew his statement. Those who testified at court were not eyewitnesses to the killing.
His lawyers even presented photos taken by the Forensic Medical Institute in Baghdad, showing “20 discoloration marks” in various shapes and sizes which supported the allegations of torture.
But this was not enough.
Osama’s forced “confession” was used as prime evidence in a sham trial that lasted only a day in December 2011. He was convicted under Iraq’s Anti-Terrorism Law and sentenced to death.
Now the father of two spends every hour waiting for the moment prison guards at the Nasseriya Central Prison, Dhi Qar governorate in southern Iraq, come to his cell and take him to the gallows.
Only way out
Osama’s wife, Najap, visited him last month, and described to Musadik the deplorable conditions in the jail.
“Najap told me Osama is kept in chains, on his feet and hands. That he is being tortured daily, and was taken to the gallows twice to scare him before being returned back to the cell. They are playing with his mind. They torture him mentally, they treat him like an animal. Even animals have more rights,” said Musadik.
“His children are now four and five. His wife is desperate and suffering a lot. Before being arrested Osama had bought a piece of land and was starting to build his home and his life with his family - then all this happened.”
Osama’s mother, along with his two brothers, have now fled to Turkey after they received death threats for not paying compensation to the relatives of the dead officer.
Osama’s story is not uncommon in Iraq. In its recent report “Death sentences and executions 2013” Amnesty International 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.
“The story of Osama is yet another sickening example of what happens when individuals fall prey to a judicial system that is faulty to the core – there are lives at stake,” said Said Haddadi, Iraq researcher at Amnesty International.
“There’s absolutely no question that Osama’s case must be immediately reviewed and those responsible for his torture brought to justice.”
Musadik is tireless in his efforts to save his nephew and, to his credit, the case is gaining ground. His aim: to save his nephew from death.
“I just want them to send him back to his wife and children. They accused him with no proof. I have reviewed all the court files and it’s a joke. There’s no proof, no witness against him,” Musadik said.