(Beirut) – Iraqi authorities should set aside the guilty verdict and death sentences of 24 men in the June 2014 massacre of up to 1,700 Shia cadets by the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS. On July 8, 2015, Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court sentenced the 24 at the end of a patently unfair trial that lasted only two hours and denied the defense the right to present witnesses and evidence.
The entire trial of 28 persons charged lasted just a few hours, with 24 convicted, and 4 exonerated. Iraq Media Net, the official broadcaster, announced its conclusion just over two hours after announcing its start. Iraqi authorities should order a fair retrial, Human Rights Watch said.
“The killing of hundreds of young cadets was a horrendous crime, and a fair trial for the accused is an important indicator of Iraq’s commitment to fix its justice system,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “The families of the massacre victims, and in fact all Iraqis, deserve a full account of what happened at Camp Speicher and who was responsible for these tragic deaths.”
On June 12, ISIS militants entering Tikrit from the north captured hundreds of cadets from Camp Speicher, north of the city. ISIS separated Sunnis from Shia, and then held them for hours in Tikrit’s Presidential Palaces before executing them in groups in nearby areas, according to their own videos released and satellite images Human Rights Watch reviewed.
In total, 28 defendants faced charges under article 4 of Iraq’s 2005 Counterterrorism Law, which lumps together those who carry out, participate, plan, finance, or enable terrorism. Prosecutors accused them all of participating in the June 2014 massacre, without specifying individual roles.
The court considered each defendant’s case for no more than five minutes, and delivered its verdict after only two minutes of deliberation, Habib al-Quraishi, an Iraqi lawyer who attended the trial as an independent observer, told Human Rights Watch.
Al-Quraishi said that all defendants denied the charges and alleged that officials had extracted their confessions during pretrial detention under torture. The confessions were the main evidence presented against the defendants. The court ignored the defendants’ allegations of torture and refused to allow them to present evidence that could shed doubt on the charge, al-Quraishi said. Some defendants claimed they had not been in Tikrit on the day of the massacre, but the court did not let them call witnesses to corroborate their claims.