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Saddam: Divisive death of a demonic dictator

12/30/2006

By now everyone knows that Saddam Hussein, former dictator of Iraq, was hanged this morning at 6:00 AM. Iraq time.

There can be no doubt that Saddam was guilty many times over, and that he caused the execution or death of countless people without a semblance of any judicial process. Nonetheless, the execution is questionable, and has brought protests from the UN and others.

There can also be no doubt that his trial was an inexplicably chaotic farce, symptomatic of much that is happening in Iraq at present. His execution was, for obscure reasons, carried out in a hurry, on the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday.

He was executed for a relatively "minor" offence: The murder of 148 people after an attempt was made on his life in the northern Iraqi city of Dujail in 1982. For a guy like Saddam, 148 murders are small change. The execution made it impossible to try him for the much greater al Anfal atrocities of 1987, a trial in which he was to have appeared January 8. If his testimony would have been required to test the evidence against others, it is no longer available.

There were numerous other offences of which he could have been accused, such as the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Of course, his launching of that war without any cause could also be considered a criminal act, but starting wars is not against the law as yet.

Thre are many other good arguments against his execution, especially for those who are against the death penalty in principle. One argument against the death penalty does not apply here: there was no possibility that Saddam was innocent, or that the wrong criminal was executed.

The first such war crimes trials in modern times were conducted by the Nurenberg tribunals after World War II. Strictly speaking, the trials were probably illegal. There was no real precedent for trying government officials who had killed people in war time for whatever reasons.

Many of the Soviet judges at the Nurenberg tribunals had themselves presided over liquidations that were not much better than those conducted by the Nazis. The Soviets had also murdered a group of Polish officers who were prisoners of war, in clear violation of international conventions, in the Katyn forest in Katowice, Poland. In fact, there were several such massacres of prisoners of war and political prisoners conducted about the same time by the Soviets. Nobody was ever brought to trial for those massacres, and many others that the Soviet regime committed.

To be sure, Nurenberg was a more orderly and methodical procedure than the chaotic trials of Saddam and his co-defendants. Several defendants at Nurenberg were executed and others committed suicide. Others, like Hitler, killed themselves before they could be brought to justice. Adolph Eichmann was later caught, tried and executed in Israel.

Those who do not want the death sentence for Saddam should consider what it would be like to have, for example, Mr. Goring, or Mr. Hitler or Mr Eichmann or various Obersturmfuhrers and the like rotting in prison for several decades, issuing press conferences, starting a fan club, selling their memoirs ("I was Reichsfuhrer of Germany - Soon to be a major motion picture".) and perhaps pleading for conjugal rights and using the appeals process to continue to make propaganda for their odious philosophy.

It would have been a grotesque spectacle, much worse than the show put on by Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, and his supporters. Remember that Saddam was guilty of the murder of hundreds of thousands, not of one person, and that keeping him alive was providing symbolic leadership to a movement that is still killing people. At least 72 people died after Saddam was hanged today.

For all their faults, war crimes procedings are slowly establishing a precedent. Since civilization began, the law has made individuals within a society answerable to criminal justice for their actions. The process and the basis of this "justice" often left much to be desired, as did the penalties. The law and the human concept of justice have evolved over thousands of years. But this law applied only to individuals. Governments were above the law.

For the first time in history, a mechanism has been put into place that makes governnments answerable to a higher law. It will be a long time before this mechanism will be perfected, but at least, people can now have some confidence that the crimes of a Saddam or a Milosevic will not go unpunished. Would-be Saddam Husseins should take this into account.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000548.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Sadly war criminals like Harry Truman and George W. Bush will go unpunished. The only true crime in war is losing. Winners will execute "justice" on losers while ignoring all the injustices they have committed.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 01/04/2007 03:47 AM CST


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