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January 15, 2007-
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A journalist who saw videotape of the Monday hangings of Saddam Hussein's half-brother and the dictator's former chief judge has described how one of the men was decapitated.
New York Times reporter John F. Burns told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday evening that Barzan Hassan's head "just snapped off," because he was apparently given too much rope and fell too far -- about eight feet -- for a man of his medium build and weight.
The hangman's calculations -- a grim science governing the weight of the condemned and how much rope is necessary to kill quickly -- were apparently wrong, Burns said.(Read how hanging is supposed to work)
He said: "Two deeply frightened men in orange jumpsuits, Guantanamo-style, standing on the trapdoor, black hoods over their heads as they intoned the prayer of death.
"As ... they dropped the eight feet allowed by the coiled rope his head just snapped off, just like that, in an instant." (Watch John Burns' full description of the hangings )
Burns was among a small group of reporters, which did not include CNN, who were invited to watch a videotape of the two side-by-side hangings.
The hangings happened at about 3 a.m. Monday (7 p.m. Sunday ET), said Basam Ridha, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office.
After the men dropped, Burns said, the videotape shows Hassan "lying face down -- [a] headless pool of blood accumulating around his neck."
Hassan's head was still in the black hood that covered his face before he fell through the trapdoor, according to Burns.
"It seems what happened was that the Iraqi officials who had worked so hard to get this one right just got it wrong," he said.
Burns said the decapitation appeared to be accidental and the execution of the second man, Awad Bandar, appeared to be properly conducted.
"It only goes to show that, you know, when things go wrong, they go very badly wrong in Iraq," said Burns, who has covered the region for many years.
The Iraqi government previously released a silent video of Saddam Hussein's December 30 execution, that ends before the actual hanging.
However, unauthorized mobile phone video showed Hussein's hanging and included audio of Shiite guards taunting the Sunni ex-dictator on the gallows.
That video sparked widespread outrage and suggestions the execution was a sectarian lynching. (Watch crowds in Sadr City celebrate the hangings )
There was no audio on the videotape of Monday's executions, Burns said.
Iraqi officials were motivated to show the videotape to reporters because they are "absolutely determined," Burns said, that the video not get on the Internet and "be replayed a million times, especially across the Middle East."
The video will not be released to the public, Ridha said.
Compared to the approximately 25 people who witnessed Hussein's hanging, only about 10-12 people saw Monday's executions, said Burns.
Everyone in the room was required to sign an agreement promising not to engage in taunting the condemned men or recording the execution, said Ridha, who was a witness.
"It was not like a very pretty scene," said Ridha, who called the decapitation "an act of God."
According to their wishes, Hassan and Bandar were buried around 8:30 p.m. Monday near Hussein's grave in Owja, Iraq, a local government spokesman told CNN.
The men were executed for their roles in the killings of 148 men and boys after a 1982 assassination attempt on Hussein in Dujail, Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Sunnis reacted with anger to the decapitation, and some Shiites expressed shock at the way the hanging was conducted, according to wire reports. (Full story)
Describing Monday's execution, Ridha said the two men, dressed in their orange prisoner uniforms, "looked very surprised" that they were actually going to be hanged.
They "were very apologetic," asking that they not be put to death, he said. "They asked God for forgiveness," he said.
Hoods were placed over their heads, unlike Hussein, who asked not to be given a hood when he was hanged on the same gallows, Ridha said.
The two were sentenced to death in November.
Their death sentences were upheld by an Iraqi appeals court in December but delayed amid the controversy surrounding Hussein's execution
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