Wednesday, January 10, 2007


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Reflections on the Murder of Saddam Hussein
By Thomas Riggins

Most people would agree, I think, that Saddam Hussein was not a role model of what a political leader should be. It is hard to have sympathy for a man who was responsible for the murders of thousands of people and who routinely resorted to force and violence in order to maintain himself in power. Even if it is argued that he was a product of his time and clime and that he should be judged by the mores of the culture he was conditioned by, it can still be asserted that there are international standards
that can be applied to any political leader by virtue of membership in the United Nations and the acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other obligations which come with membership in international bodies.

Saddam was clearly guilty of crimes against humanity when he started an adventuristic and unnecessary war against Iran in the 1980s. But the Bush administration is also guilty of such crimes for its illegal war against Iraq, unilaterally launched against the wishes of the UN and in defiance of our obligations as a member of that organization. It seems to be a toss up as to which president, Saddam or Bush Jr., is responsible for the most murders of their fellow human beings as a result of their reckless and illegal (as well as immoral) exercise of power. Saddam’s murder by the US client government (with the connivance of the Bush administration) only reminds us of what history has long ago taught us, that "justice" is not meted out necessarily to the most guilty but rather to the less powerful.

"Murder" may seem like a strong word for what many are calling an "execution." Murder implies the unlawful taking of life. The reports of Saddam's killing in the New York Times indicate that this was indeed the case. The killing took place at the behest of the Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki who signed the death warrant. However, the constitution of Iraq, so recently touted as a major victory for democracy and a respect for law, requires three signatures before an execution. In addition to Maliki's, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, was also supposed to sign. Talabani, a Kurd, a Sunni, and an opponent of capital punishment refused to do so. One other signature was also required, that of Tariq al-Hashemi a moderate Sunni. All three men are members of Iraq's presidential council and only the signatures of all three make an execution legal in Iraq.

Maliki argued that he could authorize the killing on his own due to the law that set up the special tribunal that carried out the kangaroo show trail of Saddam. However the chief judge of the Supreme Judicial Council, Midhat al-Mahmoud, refused to sign off on that interpretation. The killing, therefore, appears to have been an unconstitutional violation of Iraqi law. The US, by turning Saddam over to Maliki, became complicit in this act of Murder.

There is a major effort now to exculpate the US for any complicity in the killing of Saddam (It was an Iraqi affair), but the US had the physical custody of Saddam, knew of the constitutional problem, and nevertheless surrendered custody to Maliki's goons.

The killing itself has caused an international uproar due to unauthorized cell phone videos of the Shiite officials and guards mocking Saddam as he was being hanged. The consensus of human rights groups and independent legal scholars seems to be that, whatever Saddam's just deserts may have been, he did not get a fair trail and sectarian vengeance rather that any desire to arrive at justice was the motivating force behind his killing.

In point of fact, the ineptitude and brutality of a televised sectarian killing dressed up as an "execution" and as "justice" has, as the New York Times reports, changed the image of Saddam from that of brutal dictator to hero and martyr for many throughout the Arab world (NYT 1-6-2007). President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is quoted as saying, "No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed. They turned him into a martyr." In Libya Saddam is getting a new statue! Banners are appearing in Beirut which read "God damn America and its spies. Our condolences to the nation for the assassination of Saddam, and victory to the Iraqi resistance."

The Bush administration has a knack for making everything worse for itself that it tries to accomplish in the Middle East. Instead of going down in history as the tyrant he actually was, there is now a danger that Saddam will be remembered in the popular imagination as a hero and patriot and great champion of the Arab cause. The Times quotes Ayman Safadi, editor of Al Ghad (an independent newspaper in Jordan), "In the public's perception Saddam was terrible, but those people were worse. That final act has really jeopardized the future of Iraq immensely. And we all know this is a blow to the moderate camp in the Arab world." So, once again, the Bushites have strengthened rather that weakened terrorism.

Perhaps the impact of the killings was best summed up by an American lawyer working with the Iraqi judicial system: "We had thought the court would be a beacon of light in a very dark landscape. But the way it has come out with the hanging, we've substituted one dictatorship for another" (NYT, 1-7-07).

The problem is that there is no way you can have the state, or any government, deliberately kill someone. Capital punishment is a remnant of a barbaric and cruel past which humanity should have left behind. There is no way the US and its client state can engage in barbaric and uncivilized practices and expect the world to applaud their behavior. By imitating the practices of Saddam, they become Saddam. Saddam, as all people charged with crimes against humanity, should have been tried at the Hague in front of the international court of justice set up by the UN. Life in prison to reflect upon his crimes should have been the outcome for Saddam had he been found guilty there.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

1 comment:

FSJL said...

The US is going to have a hard time getting this kind of tar off its hands.