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December 30, 2006

On Saddam

Eve

I think it's amazing the way a modern tyrant, if he lives past the fall of his evil works, can be so diminished by the absurdities and petty turns of events involved in figuring out what to do with him, attempting to treat him fairly, tend to his health and accomodate his infirmities, while still trying to act as though he is a person who murdered hundreds of thousands, etc. Pinochet underwent such a diminishment. While Saddam won't be laid to rest with the mixed feelings that accompanied Pinochet's death, the Mel-Brooks-esque comedy and two-bit pathos of his trial reduced the figure he cut from a powerful terror to a hollow, powerless, nutty, fuming, pitiable creature mincing around on the unglorified stage of the law.

And Josh:

Convention dictates that we precede any discussion of this execution with the obligatory nod to Saddam's treachery, bloodthirsty rule and tyranny. But enough of the cowardly chatter. This thing is a sham, of a piece with the whole corrupt, disastrous sham that the war and occupation have been. Bush administration officials are the ones who leak the news about the time of the execution. One key reason we know Saddam's about to be executed is that he's about to be transferred from US to Iraqi custody, which tells you a lot. And, of course, the verdict in his trial gets timed to coincide with the US elections.

This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us. [...]

Marty Peretz, with some sort of projection, calls any attempt to rain on this parade "prissy and finicky." Myself, I just find it embarrassing. This is what we're reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there's nothing else this president can get right.

In the end, Saddam's execution only underscores our plight. By the time his neck snapped and his feet swung, Saddam was but a diminished eccentric. His death, once supposed to be the final, glorious denouement of the war, is just a discomfiting reminder that we know only how to destroy, not rebuild. Saddam is dead. Zarqawi is dead. There is no one left to kill or capture who will end this nightmare. In the end, they were just more bodies, tossed atop the pyre in Iraq, where so many others have burned, and where the flames show no sign of extinguishing.

December 30, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

WTF is with the masked executioners and the bizarre AP video? The camera is all shaky and the one guy who isn't masked has his face digitally blurred. Honestly, and other have said this too, it looks just like the execution videos put out by Zarqawi. I thought that a state-sanctioned execution was done in full view with the official power of the state, this looks like something Al Qaeda would release on the internet. (Obviously, the executioners fear for their lives if their faces are seen, which says quite a bit about the state of affairs in Iraq.)

Posted by: SP | Dec 30, 2006 6:29:29 PM

If Saddam was only a diminished eccentric when he died, then the Bush Administration succeeded to that extent. And we won't have to worry so much about him being a martyr. There were early plans about the glorious denouement idea, but those were always somewhat inconsistent with the diminishment plans. Even if there had been anything to mark the denouement of.

SP, it has been standard practice in much of the world for centuries for excecutioners to be hooded, not only for fear of their lives, but because it's unholy, degrading work.

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 30, 2006 6:45:55 PM

eve, josh marshall and ezra...
thank you for your writings.
the comments you wrote were so deeply expressive and eloquent in addressing the tragedies in iraq and the ghoulish sham that was yesterday.
you are all such fine and expressive writers.

Posted by: jacqueline | Dec 30, 2006 6:47:07 PM

Bush’s war killed more Iraqi’s then Saddam did. When is Bush’s trail?

Most of the free world fails to understand how/why there is so little revealed about the trial of Saddam Hussein, and indeed why he was not fully hold in account for his crime in Kurdistan not to forget loss of one million human during Iran/Iraq war and occupation of Kuwait.

It’s clear that Saddam was not allowed to divulge top secrets of how the US and the West armed his regime and gave him the political and military means to keep his opponents at bay. Some of the crimes against Kurds that he was found guilty of had the blessings of the Americans at the time, and there was not any demand for justice from the Washington when it happened.

Shalom,

--- Prof. Leland Milton Goldblatt

http://www.prof.faithweb.com
http://drgoldblatt.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Leland MIlton Goldblatt | Dec 30, 2006 8:34:25 PM

Wow, Josh Marshall writing with a little spit and fire. I didn't know he had it in him. But he fails to point the most salient and important point: the death penalty, whether by hanging or lethal injection, is barbarism, the quintessential instrument of tyranny. The very first act of post-aparteid goverment in South Africa, which knew something about tyranny, was to ban the death penalty; of course Mandela and his colleagues also had the courage to provide for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and fair trials. By contrast, this Iraqi goverment, such as it is, convicts Saddam in a sham trial.

Let's call this by its proper name: human sacrifice.

Posted by: davidmizner | Dec 30, 2006 8:50:34 PM

Juan Cole points out at Salon.com :

The execution provoked intense questions about whether his trial was fair and about what the fallout will be. One thing is certain: The trial and execution of Saddam were about revenge, not justice.

- Saddam was a symbol of Sunni-Shiite rivalry long before the U.S. occupation.

- A "de-Baathification" committee, dominated by hard-line Shiites like Nouri al-Maliki (now prime minister) and Ahmed Chalabi, denied large numbers of Sunni Arabs the right to participate in political society or hold government positions on grounds of links to the Baath Party.

-...he was accused of the execution of scores of Shiites in Dujail in 1982. This Shiite town had been a hotbed of activism by the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa (Islamic Call) Party, which was founded in the late 1950s and modeled on the Communist Party. In the wake of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini's 1979 Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran, Saddam conceived a profound fear of Dawa and similar parties, banning them and making membership a capital crime. Young Dawa leaders such as al-Maliki fled to Tehran, Iran, or Damascus, Syria.

-When Saddam visited Dujail, Dawa agents attempted to assassinate him. In turn, he wrought a terrible revenge on the town's young men. Current Prime Minister al-Maliki is the leader of the Dawa Party and served for years in exile in its Damascus bureau. For a Dawa-led government to try Saddam, especially for this crackdown on a Dawa stronghold, makes it look to Sunni Arabs more like a sectarian reprisal than a dispassionate trial for crimes against humanity.

- The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

- The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice” for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public.

- In his farewell address, however, Saddam could not help departing from his national-unity script to take a few last shots at his ethnic rivals. Despite some smarmy language urging Iraqis not to hate the Americans, Saddam denounced the "invaders" and "Persians" who had come into Iraq. The invaders are the American army, and the Persians are code not just for Iranian agents but for Iraqi Shiites, whom many Sunni Arabs view as having Iranian antecedents and as not really Iraqi or Arab. It was such attitudes that led to slaughters like that at Dujail.

How many of the neo-con and media pundits have any idea of the long historical Sunni/Shia shadows that previously and now projectively hang over this so-called 'bringing to justice' by a Shia government on a Sunni religious holiday? And where this could lead?


Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Dec 30, 2006 8:55:50 PM

"And where this could lead?"

Well, put. Likely, the trial and hanging of Saddam will come to be seen as an important event in the Sunni-Shia war that engulfed the region from 2006-?

Posted by: davidmizner | Dec 30, 2006 8:59:03 PM

To what "mixed feelings" does Fairbanks refer with regard to the butcher Pinochet's demise? More moral bankruptcy from the TNR crowd.

Posted by: Farinata X | Dec 31, 2006 12:50:31 AM

To what "mixed feelings" does Fairbanks refer with regard to the butcher Pinochet's demise?

FWIW, I don't think Fairbanks was saying she had mixed feelings, but there was a certain amount of sentiment on the right that he made the trains run on time, or something along those lines...

Posted by: Pooh | Dec 31, 2006 1:35:26 AM

I've read comments on the right and the left about Pinochet and Saddam. With a (very) few exceptions on the right, the sentiment towards Pinochet was positive and supportive. They liked him. With no exceptions, the sentiment on the left towards Saddam was negative - they hated him. The sentiments towards the war, and towards the trial, and towards the hollow 'victory' which Saddam's execution is, are all negative. But liberals' feelings towards Saddam himself are negative.

Posted by: Barry | Dec 31, 2006 1:13:30 PM

The one really positive thing I can see here is that the Iraqi government has shown us how to carry out a lawful execution without stringing it out over a couple of decades.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 1, 2007 10:17:51 AM

"The one really positive thing I can see here is that the Iraqi government has shown us how to carry out a lawful execution without stringing it out over a couple of decades."

Except for the "lawful" part, perhaps.

Posted by: jmack | Jan 1, 2007 11:26:58 AM

I haven't heard anyone other than your post claim it was not lawful.

Are you just flapping your gums for your own entertainment, or do you have something to base that statement on?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 1, 2007 9:51:13 PM

Fred, the consensus among the legal experts who followed the trial seems to be that it didn't come very close to meeting our own legal standards, but that it was probably fair enough in substance, given the weight of the evidence.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 2, 2007 2:24:18 AM

"The one really positive thing I can see here is that the Iraqi government has shown us how to carry out a lawful execution without stringing it out over a couple of decades. "

Posted by: Fred Jones

This comment shows a remarkable lack of knowledge about Saddam's - how should I say it - 'efficiency', that's the ticket, in conducting executions. He had a real mass-production process going.

Posted by: Barry | Jan 2, 2007 9:55:54 AM

"I haven't heard anyone other than your post claim it was not lawful."

The NYT ran a story on 12/31 that quoted an Iraqi official as saying that the U.S. wanted things to be done legally, so the Iraqis began a "frantic quest for legal workarounds" so that the execution could go forward quickly. It is our own government that is questioning the process, Fred. We finally agreed to the timetable, deciding simply to advise against it, but not to try to prevent it.

Posted by: jmack | Jan 3, 2007 12:36:18 AM

Fred, the consensus among the legal experts who followed the trial seems to be that it didn't come very close to meeting our own legal standards, but that it was probably fair enough in substance, given the weight of the evidence.

Is the standard our own legal standards or the law of the government of Iraq?

Iraqis began a "frantic quest for legal workarounds" so that the execution could go forward quickly.

So who is willing to go on record and say that the execution or even the trial was not lawful? I haven't heard anyone, nada.

I think my point stands.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 3, 2007 8:20:07 AM

This comment shows a remarkable lack of knowledge about Saddam's - how should I say it - 'efficiency', that's the ticket, in conducting executions. He had a real mass-production process going.

What a great strawman you construct!!
Who, other than you, would have taken a reference to the "Iraqi Government" to mean under Saddam's rule?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 3, 2007 8:23:43 AM

Fred, the standards of law and fairness we apply are our own standards, of course. Do you judge Chinese courts by Chinese standards? Are you suddenly some kind of cultural relativist? It's not entirely clear what the Iraqi legal standards are, in any case.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 3, 2007 1:43:52 PM

"The one really positive thing I can see here is that the Iraqi government has shown us how to carry out a lawful execution without stringing it out over a couple of decades."

The rate at which a State's death row inmates are exonerated is inversely related to the speed with which it carries out executions. Long stays on death row are good. Incidentally, the average stay on death row is less than a decade. But you were probably just being hyperbolic.

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