Saddam Hussein has been hanged. I don’t need to provide a link for this, as it is front page global news. I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty for anyone, for a lot of reasons that I hope are self-evident. But if anyone deserves such a fate, then the likes of Saddam, Timothy McVeigh, Nikolai Ceaucescu and Ted Bundy certainly qualify.
But that’s not what I’m going to talk about. I think we can all agree that Saddam was a beastly man and that few people of depth are going to shed tears over his grave. And I will leave aside the question of whether capital punishment is moral in a supposedly moral worldview.
My problem is manifold. I have questions regarding why the execution was done so suddenly, on the eve of Sunni Eid, just 48 hours before Shiite Eid. Why were partisan Shiite phrases being uttered in the death chamber, as CNN reported? Whom does this manner of execution, its scheduling in particular, serve? The entire rushed affair is fishy to me, seemingly pushed ahead by forces seeking to exacerbate a Sunni-Shiite conflict and to put another checkmark on the list of things accomplished in 2006. We can agree that Saddam was a monster of man, but that doesn’t excuse the shuffling of a human life for what are clearly political purposes.
Let me be even more controversial. Saddam’s rule over Iraq was ended by the illegal invasion and occupation by a foreign power, the USA. This occupying power wrote the new constitution of Iraq and essentially installed its new government, which, if we are to be honest with ourselves, still takes its marching orders from the US “embassy”. This occupying power manages Iraq’s real power, its police and military forces, and captured and maintained custody of the prisoner Saddam. I would argue that all of this made Saddam a prisoner of war and not of the people.
Moreover, let’s not forget that the new Iraq courts were trained by US “consultants”, with Saddam’s own defence lawyers being American-led. As hands-off as BushCo wished to be seen, the fact remains that the Americans were deeply involved in the capture, custody and trial of Saddam.
What does all this mean? A prisoner of war –no less a deposed ruler– has been captured, tried and executed by an invading, occupying force. Does this make no one else uncomfortable?
What then would have been a better outcome? No trial. Imprisonment as a prisoner of war until the end of US occupation. Upon complete withdrawal, hand him over the new, truly independent Iraqi authorities or, better yet, the world court in The Hague. To have had this trial and the execution while both the occupation and war still rage on is, to cite a cliche, simply a travesty of justice.
Yes, we can all be happy for the families of Saddam’s victims; they dance about happily with justifiable smiles on their faces. But history will not remember this event as a triumph of justice, but as yet another war crime.