Monday, January 01, 2007

The execution of Saddam

The execution of Saddam Hussein is one death among so many: yesterdays Guardian reported that three bombs exploded after the hanging, killing 70. And that is a fairly typical day. I doubt that the execution has any great political significance. At this stage it is a bizarre sideshow. It is unlikely to be a turning point of any kind. It will not lessen the resistance to the occupation, and - although the execution will add fuel to the sectarian warfare - that is already well advanced. But there are several reasons for, at least, some disquiet about the execution.
First, the trial was farcical. Human Rights Watch has documented a series of departures from proper legal standards including inadequate protection for witnesses and defence lawyers (two of the latter were murdered), failure to disclose key evidence to the defendants, violations of the defendants right to question witnesses, and lack of independence of judges. Of course, in all frankness, we know that Saddam was guilty. Nevertheless it is important for the integrity of law that judges at least make an attempt to show professional detachment and that proper procedures are followed. This clearly did not happen in this case. Essentially this was a judicial lynching. Even at the end, the executioners behaved like a bunch of hoodlums: wearing balaclavas and taunting the prisoner. After he had been hanged there were (according to the Guardian) “spontaneous scenes of celebration” in the execution chamber. That must have been a macabre moment. Is it not shaming that this monster Saddam behaved with more dignity than his executioners? Hamas has described it as a “political assassination” and I suspect that view will be widespread among Sunni Arabs. The retort that Saddam Hussein did not give his victims a fair trial – that his crimes were monstrous – is not the point; we are supposed to set higher standards. It would have been better if Saddam had been lynched by a mob; at least that would not have been given the imprimatur of law.
Second, the precise crime of which Saddam was found guilty concerned his role in the murder of 148 Shia men and boys in Al-Dujail in 1982. It would be an interesting exercise to go through the 1982 newspapers to see what precisely the western reaction to this massacre was at the time. My guess would be that it was fairly muted (Rumsfeld would later visit Bagdad as a guest of Saddam in 1983 and 1984). Interestingly, the Kurds are not over-impressed by Saddam’s execution. They wanted him to stand trial for his crimes in southern Kurdistan during the Anfal campaign in the late 1980’s. That might have been embarrassing for the Americans – since they were at the time Saddam’s ally and a main source of huge supplies of arms. In any sort of fair trial one must presume that Saddam would have drawn attention to this fact. His death is enormously convenient for the United States, whose decision it was to hand him over for execution.
Third, I don’t buy the argument that the execution sends a message to dictators that one day they may face justice. That strikes me as Pollyannaish. The message it sends is: if you are a dictator you are OK so long as you keep the United States “on side” (or so long as you have nuclear weapons). The torturers and murderers in, for example, Uzbekistan are not shaking in their boots. They enjoy American (and British) good will. They will have observed that Pinochet died peacefully in his bed. They know that this is about power (and oil). They know it was “victor’s justice”. They know that the big mistake they must avoid is not to antagonise the United States. It a message of “double standards” and selective amnesia.
But, as I say, it is all of little import. Saddam was already finished. Despite what the Americans say the resistance is not Baathist. In yesterdays Guardian Ghaith Abdul-Ahad interviewed a “mid-level commander of an insurgency group in West Bagdad”. The execution of Saddam, he said, “is better for the jihad. Every time the mujahideen do an operation they say it’s the people of Saddam. Where is Saddam now? Let’s see if his death will affect the jihad. Of course it won’t”. One death and so many more to come.


Blogger skipper said...

Very good post I thought. Well argued and reinforced by fact. The trial was a disgrace and the manner of the execution also. There seems there are no depths to which events in Iraq cannot sink. On balance I think it was necessary to allow him to be killed but there is no denying it was no triumph of justice of any kind and merely an extension of the brutality which has characterized this benighted country for the past two decades.

8:16 pm  

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