2003: Four for the oil of Chad

1 comment November 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2003, seven Chadians were shot in the capital of N’Djamena, with an eighth in the eastern city of Abeche. (A ninth would be executed three days later.)

Chad’s first known judicial executions since 1991 came as a shock to observers; the country had publicly mooted death penalty abolition earlier that very year.

It also seems to have come as a shock for its subjects.

Four of those executed this date — the four that concern us here — were ranking power-brokers in President Idriss Deby’s regime convicted of bumping off the head of the Chad Petroleum Company, one Sheik Ibn Oumar Idriss Youssouf.

Mahamat Adam Issa, Adouma Ali Ahmat, Abderamane Hamid Haroun and Moubarack Bakhit Abderamane had been condemned on Oct. 25, just a month after the Sheikh was assassinated outside the Foreign Ministry. Less than two weeks later, the perps were shot when Deby denied them clemency even with their Supreme Court appeal still pending (pdf). (The Chadian judiciary seems a rickety thing (pdf).)

The murder, for its part, came just a month after Chad christened a $3.7 billion pipeline project.

It’s often called the “Adouma affair” after its principal defendant, which helpfully suggests the murky oil politics surrounding the speedy execution.

Ali Adouma was a former Deby advisor; both Adouma and the victim were from Darfur, in neighboring Sudan, whose conflict has spilled into Chad (pdf).

The Sudanese government had at times sought Adouma’s extradition for financing anti-govenrment Zaghawa forces across the border; while the Zaghawa ethnic minority (whose ranks include President Deby) dominates Chad, its Darfurian brethren have had the worst of their conflict with the Sudanese government.

So even if the convicts’ torture-adduced confessions resembled the truth of the murder, it can be safely inferred that the fact and the haste of their executions were matters of state. (Adouma’s confidence that there would not actually be an execution was reportedly shaken only in the last hours of his life.)

What matter of state is a different, uncertain matter: to calm potential foreign investors who’d be understandably nervous about seeing a petroleum kingpin pinched on the streets without consequence? A sop to Khartoum in Deby’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to limit the knock-on from Darfur to Chad? Or a warning to Deby’s own base? (pdf)

The vague attempts at conciliation by the Chadian President do not please his entourage which almost sees it as treason. Last May, 80 soldiers tried to overthrow Deby and would have assassinated him …

President Idriss Deby, according to observers with knowledge of Chadian politics, would be in a “precarious” situation. The Chad regime, undermined by corruption and ever on the brink of a chronic socio-economic crisis … may become even “tougher”. In N’Djamena, the hasty conviction and execution of Ali Adouma are seen as a sign from the President to his inner circle, even the ones in charge of the national economy, that he is ready to use coercion, even against his own clan.

These pictures of the execution were published in a Chadian paper. In image three, the circled figure is one of the firing squad members, who was himself bizarrely reported fatally shot during the execution. (Whispers continue to circulate that the unlucky executioner had in fact been intentionally eliminated after receiving some sensitive parting confidence from the well-placed condemned.)

“Chad,” said Interior Minister Routouang Yoma Golom, “has given a wonderful example to wrong-doers.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Chad,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Pelf,Politicians,Power,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1924: Ali Reshti and Sayyid Husain, to placate America

2 comments November 2nd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1924, diplomatic maneuvering, oil patch politics, and a dead American consul put two Iranian teenagers in front of a firing squad.

Largely forgotten today, the affair which prompted their execution helped Cossack commander Reza Khan‘s ongoing consolidation of power, culminating in another year’s time with his conquest of the Persian throne itself.

By the summer of 1924, he was by title Prime Minister and his domestic opponents could read the writing on the wall: he had made a premature bid for formal executive authority in 1923 only to be rebuffed.* At the same time, he was engaged in the perilous oil game with an attempt to use American companies to break a British oil monopoly.

On July 18, 1924, American Vice Consul Maj. Robert Imbrie and his civilian countryman Melvin Seymour were attacked by a Tehran mob while photographing a well which had become a Moslem devotional site for purported miraculous healings. Imbrie was beaten to death; Seymour was lucky to survive … and it soon emerged that soldiers from the nearby barracks had not only failed to protect the Americans but actually taken part in the assault.

Iran’s emerging strongman lost no time in making the most of it.

The event gave [Reza Khan] … the excuse for declaring martial law and a censorship of the Press … Numerous arrests have been made, chiefly of political opponents of the Prime Minister. (British military attache Col. W.A.K. Fraser)

It’s like Lenin said, you look for the person who will benefit and, uh, you know, uh, you know, you’ll, uh, you know what I’m trying to say …

Assuming one discerns some measure of design in the Imbrie murder, and the convenient outburst of anti-Baha’i paranoia that sparked the fatal incident, one can go a couple of different directions at this point.

  1. That the Prime Minister’s foes, allied with British oil interests (the British angle was so widely believed in Iran at the time that press censorship forbade the incendiary charge), were firing up the rowdies in an attempt to shake his power. This 1924 American cable makes that case:

    “It had the earmarks from the beginning of an artificially inspired movement, of which the organized powers of evil were quick to take advantage in order to create disorder for the Government … Reza Khan found himself faced with a situation before which he was powerless. The fanaticism of the crowd was so incited by the continuous preaching of the Mullahs that any act on his part would have been interpreted as treason to Islam and prima facie evidence that he was a Bahai; hence his unfortunate orders to the military and the police not to intervene under any circumstances in religious demonstrations and under no circumstances to fire.”

  2. That Pahlavi’s own agents fomented the disorder. According to Michael Zirinsky‘s review of the case, another American official speculated that Reza Khan himself hoped a foreigner would die “so that he could declare martial law and check the power of the Mullahs.”

Which, in the event, is exactly what happened.

The U.S. made a great show of demanding exemplary justice, and it had the leverage to do so: Iran (how times change!) wanted American support and American oil exploitation.

Three were condemned to death for their parts in the riot, and after the first, a young soldier named Morteza said to have incited the mob, was shot on Oct. 2, the government announced leniency for the other two.

Not good enough.


“When you are dealing with a government like Persia … if you ask them to execute a Moslem for the death of a Christian … if they do it, you accomplish more for the prestige of your country than if they paid a million.” -a young Allen Dulles, in 1926 testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives.

At American insistence, those other two were recalled to death after all: 17-year-old mullah Sayyid Husain (various alternate transliterations – e.g., Seyid Hussein), who was supposed to have raised the riot-triggering “Baha’i well-poisoner” accusation in the first place, and 14-year-old camel driver Ali Reshti.

Zirinsky once again:

With the ending of the Iran-U.S. dispute by the execution of Ali and Husain on November 2, 1924, Reza was free to leave the capital city. He had support from the foreign legations, he had secured financing for the army, he had reestablished discipline in the Cossack Brigade, and by executing Sayyid Husain — a mullah — he had demonstrated his domination over the clergy … in the course of the next months’ campaign, he completed the unification of Iran and ensured that his government would get all the [Anglo-Persian Oil Company] royalties…

While the Imbrie affair was not the only critical event of Reza’s seizure of total power in Iran, it came at a critical moment in his rise … he used the murder to his best advantage.

And they all lived happily ever after.

* The future Shah’s future rival Mohammed Mossadegh was among the Iranian Majlis members who blocked Reza Khan’s attempt to rule Iran as a republic in 1923.

** “Blood, Power, and Hypocrisy: The Murder of Robert Imbrie and American Relations with Pahlavi Iran, 1924,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 18, no. 3 (Aug. 1986). Zirinsky quotes an American diplomat who believed Reza Khan was actually intentionally trying to create a situation where a foreigner would be killed, to give him a pretext for bringing his nation to heel with foreign support.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Iran,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Political Expedience,Religious Figures,Rioting,Shot,USA

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1918: The 26 Baku Commissars

2 comments September 20th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1918, 26 Bolsheviks and Left SRs were shot in what is now Turkmenistan, their bid to establish Soviet power in Baku defeated — temporarily.


The Execution of the Twenty-Six Baku Commissars, by Isaak Brodsky (1925)

The 26 Baku Commissars were the men of the Baku Commune, a short-lived Communist government in 1918 led by the “Caucasian Lenin,” Stepan Shahumyan. (He was a good buddy of the Russian Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov.)

In a cauldron of ethnic violence and against the military interventions of Turkey and Britain, these worthies were tasked with extending Soviet writ to the stupendous Azerbaijani oil fields* — the predominant source of tsarist Russia’s oil, and destined to be the engine of Soviet industry as well.

The Baku Soviet was expelled by the British, who inherited the bloody fight against an advancing Ottoman army.

Shahumyan and his fellow commissars, meanwhile, fled by ship across the Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan), where they fell into the hands of a the anti-Soviet factions — backed, once again, by the British — of a brand new locale’s incarnation of civil war.

The commissars’ “presence in Krasnovodsk was a matter of great concern to the [anti-Bolshevik] Ashkhabad Committee, the members of which were seriously alarmed that opposition elements in Transcaspia might take advantage of the presence of the Commissars to stage a revolt against the government.” Said concern was relieved by the expedient of escorting the Baku Soviet to the desert and shooting them en masse.

The Red Army recaptured Baku in 1920, this time for good, and Shahumyan and friends were raised to the firmament of Communist martyrology, and not only in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Streets and schools throughout the USSR bore their names.

As with many Soviet icons, the commissars had a rough come-down after the Iron Curtain fell. Their monument in Baku stood untended for many years, its eternal flame extinguished … until it was finally (and somewhat controversially) torn down earlier this year.


The Baku Commissars’ monument and its dead eternal flame, prior to its early 2009 demolition. Image (c) denn22 and used with permission.

* The Nobel family, which established the Nobel Prize, had a significant presence in the Baku petrol industry.

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1954: Hossein Fatemi, before the blowback

11 comments November 10th, 2008 Headsman

At dawn this date in 1954, the last Foreign Minister of democratic Iran was shot in Tehran.

It was a year since the dramatic events of 1953, when a CIA-backed coup d’etat overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh (or Mosaddegh, or Mossadeq, or Mosaddeq) for contemplating oil nationalization.

Over several chaotic days of “Operation Ajax” (or TPAJAX), the Mossadegh government repulsed a first coup attempt, then succumbed to another.

After Mossadegh initially appeared to have maintained his hold on power, the autocratic Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled for his life to Iraq and thence to Rome. Fatemi, Mossadegh’s forceful young foreign minister, excoriated the Shah in words that themselves raised the specter of execution.

A traitor is afraid. The day when you, O traitor, heard by the voice of Teheran that your foreign plot had been defeated you made your way to the nearest country where Britain has an embassy. (Quoted in the New York Times.)

Either way, it was high stakes for all concerned in oil country. There’s been contentious debate over the extent to which the affair was also a Cold War proxy conflict — or whether the involvement of the country’s Communist party was incidental, a smokescreen, or an outright stalking-horse for the west.

The coup against Mossadegh has emerged as a major historical turning point — and after the Shah was himself dramatically overthrown in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, not necessarily so successful for American foreign policy goals as it seemed at the time.

Appropriately — in fact, with eerie prescience given the events that then lay a generation in the future — a recently declassified 1954 CIA report on the coup made the first known use of a neologism that has since grown increasingly familiar: blowback.

Possibilities of blowback against the United States should always be in the back of the minds of all CIA officers involved in this type of operation. Few, if any, operations are as explosive as this type.

Maybe those possibilities should be in the front of the mind.

Today, there’s a street named for Fatemi in Tehran, and — strange to say — still some number of Americans who anticipate the greeting due liberators should they ever manage to roll a tank down it.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Iran,Language,Politicians,Shot,Treason,USA

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1979: Francisco Macías Nguema, President for Life

1 comment September 29th, 2008 Headsman

In the early afternoon this date, Equatorial Guinea’s former President for Life was sentenced to death with six aides at the end of a four-day trial for murder, treason, embezzlement, and genocide.

That evening, the seven were shot at Malabo’s Blabich Prison.

Nguema Biyoto Masie, nee Francisco Macías Nguema, rose from the Spanish colonial bureaucracy to win the first post-independence presidency of the minuscule African state.

He quickly created a one-party state and increasingly nutty cult of personality, answering to such horror-comic nicknames as “Unique Miracle”.

Nguema’s Unique Miracle for Equatorial Guinea was a Pol Pot-style catastrophe, killing or driving out most of the population (including Nguema’s own wife), eviscerating the economy, and getting into military brinksmanship with neighboring Nigeria.*

His nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, overthrew him a few weeks before this date. Despite the speedy resolution of the case, international observers on the scene considered it a fair enough trial and the dictator’s guilt duly established; procedurally, the execution happened immediately because he was tried by the highest court in the land and there was nowhere to appeal.


Francisco Macias Nguema during his trial.

Still, the shooting itself was handled by hired Moroccan troops, rather than citizens of Equatorial Guinea: Nguema had convinced quite a lot of people that he had magic powers, and the locals weren’t eager to be the ones to test the proposition.

Bloody but necessary first step to parliamentary democracy?

Not quite. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, one of the worst dictators you’ve never heard of, still runs Equatorial Guinea in much the manner of his predecessor to this day.


Did we mention that Equatorial Guinea has oil?

* Francisco Macias Nguema’s daughter, “Empress Bella Syttam Macias”, lives in Utah and defends her dad. She seems to have been too young to have been personally involved in anything unsavory in the 70’s.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Equatorial Guinea,Execution,Heads of State,History,Infamous,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Politicians,Shot,The Worm Turns,Theft,Treason

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1995: Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni Nine

15 comments November 10th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1995, author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow activists of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) were hanged by the Nigerian military junta in Port Harcourt.

Saro-Wiwa, the author of works such as Sozaboy, was already considered among Nigeria’s greatest writers before becoming an activist for the rights of his Ogoni people in the face of Nigeria’s lucrative and ecologically destructive Niger Delta oil trade.

Few benefits of that trade returned to the politically marginalized Ogoni, whose overwhelming response to MOSOP’s organizing soon began choking off oil exploitation in Ogoniland and brought a violent response from the Nigerian dictatorship — operating hand in glove with Shell Oil, as Saro-Wiwa himself noted in his closing remarks to the sham tribunal that convicted him of inciting a murderous riot.

I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The Company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.

In my innocence of the false charges I face here, in my utter conviction, I call upon the Ogoni people, the peoples of the Niger delta, and the oppressed ethnic minorities of Nigeria to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights. History is on their side. God is on their side. For the Holy Quran says in Sura 42, verse 41: “All those that fight when oppressed incur no guilt, but Allah shall punish the oppressor.” Come the day.

Though Saro-Wiwa’s hanging helped quell Ogoniland sufficiently for Shell to resume production, it left an opposition martyr. Saro-Wiwa’s prison diary was published shortly after his hanging; his son, journalist Ken Wiwa, has written a biography; and separate UK- and Canada-based organizations exist to carry on his memory and work.

The tensions left unresolved in the Delta, meanwhile, have spawned ever more militant resistance movements.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Mass Executions,Murder,Nigeria,Pelf,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rioting,Ripped from the Headlines,Wrongful Executions

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