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Exposed, Disposed, Deposed, Despots December 31, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in anger, death penalty, Iraq, Morality, pacifism, Politics, Race and Prejudice, Saddam Hussein, Violence, Voting, War and Peace.

Recently, Tiffany blogged about the hanging of Saddam Hussein, the culpability of the United States (and specifically, President Bush) for “war crimes.” While I am no fan of our current foreign policy (or lack thereof), and struggle greatly with the actions of my country in Iraq, I’ve been more inclined to look at the developing situation and ask “What do we do now?”


The hanging of Saddam brings new questions and new concerns, and clearly will not magically bring an end to violence in Iraq. What it does do, is bring closure to the reign of a tyrant.

Despot-ly Seeking WMDs
Lost in much of the current furor over Saddam’s hanging is the fact that he committed horrible crimes against the citizens of his country. Yes, he most likely did these horrible things with the complicit help of the United States (either by us supplying him with weapons, supporting his dictatorship, not removing him from power earlier, or all three), but that clearly does not release him from responsibility for his actions and choices.

Regardless of the culpability of the US in these matters (which I believe is not insignificant), Saddam tortured and murdered thousands, and made it obvious, even in the end, that he had no regrets about doing so. He was not, as he claimed, a bridge between Sunnis and Shiites. He was an enemy to a unified Iraq, other than to the degree that powerful dictators are able to completely suppress dissent.

Deposition Expedition
In holding our own government accountable (almost impossible, I know) for the amazingly poor choices of the past several years, we should not ignore the role that thousands and thousands of Iraqi’s have had in the institution of a new government. The recent trial of Saddam could not have happened the way it did without the Iraqi people turning out in huge numbers for last December’s elections.

Likewise, the execution of Saddam happened, not on a timetable or by a script set by the US (credible reports have US advisers stunned at how quickly the Iraqi government moved to hang him), but according to the wishes of those that the Iraqi people put into power. This is how it should be.

Next, there is the question of the sentence imposed. Tiffany points to the application of the death penalty to be barbaric, and something that puts the US (by its association with and support of the current Iraqi government) in the company of several third world countries.

At the outset, let me state that I have huge issues with the death penalty, but not from a philosophical standpoint. My issues are with the implementation of the death penalty, and the fact that it is so inconsistently applied (at least in the US).

In the case of Saddam, as was the case in Nuremberg, we have virtually no question of guilt. The evidence is public and overwhelming. Here, the only valid concerns about carrying out a death penalty sentence should be ethical questions (is it ethical for civilized people to put another human being to death, for any reason?), or concerns about further division of Iraqi society and sectarian violence.

Whether or not Saddam’s hanging with increase or decrease the violence in Iraq, either in the short term or long term, is something I can’t answer. There are wildly conflicting reports about how Sunnis and Shiites are reacting to his execution, and whether or not Saddam had more than a fragmented base of support remaining within the country. At the very least, he was a lightning rod for those who wanted Iraq to be a beacon of Islamic defiance of the West, and his death provides those same groups with a handy martyr.

With regard to the ethical and moral issues surrounding the death penalty, I think that it’s quite questionable to suggest that imprisoning someone until they die of natural causes, without any possible release from incarceration, is just as cruel, and no less ancient than executing someone. There is also the question of whether killing one person justifies killing another, and the similar argument that killing the killer makes society just as evil. What then, is the punishment for someone who kidnaps and imprisons another? Do we let them go, since imprisoning them would make society “just as bad?” Are we “just as evil” if we imprison the kidnapper, since we are doing the same thing? Rules of logic suggest that if the death penalty is to be discarded on such grounds, so too must be imprisonment.

In my view, Saddam has forfeited his “right to life” by his crimes, and society is just in taking that life away from him. It matters little, from the standpoint of justice, whether his life is taken by imprisonment, or by death. Either way, he has lost the remainder of his life. In fact, one could argue that prolonging his misery and suffering (by imprisoning him) is more cruel than killing him, where his suffering lasts only seconds.

Death Exposed
Lastly, there is the question of the public manner in which the sentence was carried out. Not only was the event televised in Iraq live (so to speak), but cell phone video has now surfaced, making the “proof of death” visible to all. Some are troubled by the public viewing of this, and by the insistence of the Iraqis to make it public.

I am not. I see two benefits to publicly broadcasting this event.

First, those whose lives had been virtually destroyed by Saddam have been living in fear that somehow, some way, he might escape justice, and return to power. After the first Gulf War, Saddam quickly moved to extract vengeance on those who had openly aided the opposing forces. How could the people of Iraq know, for certain, that he would not somehow return to power? Had his death been in secret, they might have forever wondered if it had been faked. Instead, it was clear to everyone in Iraq (and the rest of the world) that he was, indeed, dead.

Second, there is emotional closure for those who had suffered at Saddam’s hands. Vindictiveness and revenge are short-lived emotions (generally). In the same way that victims of any kind of physical or emotional abuse frequently feel “released from the bonds of the abuser,” the victims of Saddam can now be released from the bonds that he has held on them, even while in prison, even to recent days. They are now free. There is now no possibility of him returning to power, even if the US and allies were to suddenly leave Iraq, and the Bathists somehow regaining a political stronghold. (No matter how hard they might have tried, the Iraqis could not have guaranteed the Iraqi people that he would not one day be released from prison by some future, Saddam-favoring party.)

Given the above, I see no reason to stand in the way of a duly elected government in Iraq putting to death a ruthless and violent man, one who showed no remorse for his actions. Who am I to stand in the way of releasing them from the emotional bonds of Hussein’s reign?

Yes, we should hold our government accountable for its behavior over the last 20 years, not just in Iraq, and not just one party or the other. However, we should also refrain from suggesting that the hanging of Saddam Hussein is anything short of a victory for the nation of Iraq. Hopefully, 2007 will bring more victories, and not simply more bloodshed.


1. tiffanytaylor - January 2, 2007

With an interesting bit of timing, New Jersey may be on its way to abolishing the death penalty, if it follows the recommendations of a legislative panel: “With just one of its 13 members dissenting, the commission said there was “no compelling evidence” that the death penalty served a legitimate purpose and increasing evidence that it “is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency.” The panel recommended replacing capital punishment with the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/02/nyregion/02cnd-death.html?ex=1325394000&en=074fe982c8caa047&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss)

>>Saddam has forfeited his “right to life” by his crimes, and society is just in taking that life away from him. … one could argue that prolonging his misery and suffering (by imprisoning him) is more cruel than killing him>>

Who decides who has lost their right to live? It seems as though someone with your religious beliefs would view that sort of decision as falling only under the purview of God. And I truly don’t see how killing someone can be used as evidence of a just society. Also, my concern doesn’t arise from the choice of the “least cruel” punishment; I agree that quick death may be less cruel than long imprisonment. My concern lies in the decision of taking someone’s life: a decision that I don’t think any human has the right to make for another.

OK, I’m finished arguing about the death penalty now. Probably. 😉

2. Tim - January 2, 2007

By imprisoning someone, what have you done? You’ve taken away from them the opportunity to live. You stated that you wanted Saddam to spend the rest of his life in prison. Haven’t you taken his life away from him?

If you take the notion of justice in the light that you’ve described (the purview of God only), then we would not punish any criminals… we would simply wait for God to execute justice either here, or in the hereafter. Again, I am not suggesting the death of Saddam accomplishes anything significant beyond eliminating him as a threat to anyone in the future.

If we don’t have the right to take someone’s life, then we have no right to imprison them. As always, thanks for the comments. This is why I enjoy topic-centered debate and discussion about important issues, instead of what passes for debate in the public media. 😀 – Tim

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