The Iraqi government has executed 36 men linked to the 2014 massacre of 1,700 Shiite soldiers carried out by the Islamic State group (ISIS).
While family members of the ISIS victims have rejoiced over the executions, questions persist over whether or not the condemned men had received due process.
The 2014 massacre took place after ISIS forces captured the Camp Speicher air base in Tikrit, Iraq, taking 1,700 Shiite military personnel prisoner. In what has been the largest atrocity carried out by the Sunni terrorist organization yet, ISIS militants systematically executed their captives.
The ISIS militants publicized the executions on the internet, uploading videos of Shiite soldiers being shot in the head near the banks of the Tigris River and in mass graves, according to The New York Times.
The massacre became a rallying cry for Shiite militias and the Shiite-controlled Iraqi government against ISIS. After Iraqi forces recaptured Tikrit in 2015, 36 men suspected of participating in the massacre were taken prisoner. They were sentenced to death in early 2016, charged with having participated in the executions.
In July, an ISIS attack in Baghdad killed over 300 bystanders. In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi fast-tracked the executions of the 36 prisoners.
Family members of the slaughtered Shiite soldiers were present during the executions. The 36 men were hanged one by one as witnesses allegedly wailed in celebration.
Sabah Radhi, brother to one of Shiite soldiers killed in 2014, praised the executions as long-awaited justice:
“Today is the day of victory for all of us, the day where happiness has entered our broken hearts. We have been waiting for this day since the massacre, and it’s finally come true.”
The executions have been complicated by accusations from human rights groups that the 36 convicts were not given due process. Several of the defendants had maintained their innocence, stating that they had not even been present in Tikrit in 2014. Several said that their confessions had been extracted through torture, BBC reports.
Ahmed al-Karim, the head of the provincial council that governs Tikrit, shared concerns that the Iraqi government had executed men who may have been innocent.
“We support the death penalty for those who committed crimes,” al-Karim told The Associated Press. Despite agreeing with the punishment, he noted that some of the convicts “were not even present at the scene of the crime … the use of violence and torture (in Iraqi prisons) should be investigated.”
Governor Yahiya al-Nasiri of Dhi Qar, the province where the 36 men were executed, defended the Iraqi government’s decision:
“This is simple restitution to the martyrs’ families. Today, the Iraqi judicial system did its work. Today is an important day for the families, to see the people who killed their sons executed in front of their eyes.”