Some thoughts on Saddam’s execution

This is fragment of a January the 1st report published in The Guardian on how footage, filmed, it now seems, by an Iraqui official with a mobile phone,  portrayed Saddam Hussein’s execution: 

Camera footage of the final minutes of Saddam Hussein released yesterday shows him being taunted by Shia hangmen and witnesses, a scene that risks increasing sectarian tension in Iraq.

As he stood at the gallows, he was tormented by the hooded executioners or witnesses shouting at him to “Go to hell” and chanting the name Moqtada”, the radical Shia Muslim cleric and leader of the Mahdi army militia, Moqtada al-Sadr, and his family.

 The grainy images, which appeared to have been taken on a mobile phone, disclose exchanges between Saddam and his tormentors, the moment when his body drops through the trapdoor, and his body swinging, eyes partly open and neck bent out of shape. In what Sunni Muslims will perceive as a further insult, the executioners released the trapdoor while the former dictator was in the middle of his prayers.

Sunni Muslims, who were dominant under Saddam, but are now the victims of sectarian death squads, will see the shambolic nature of the execution as further evidence of the bias of the Shia-led government. They have repeatedly claimed that the Iraqi government, helped by the US and British, conducted a show trial, based on revenge rather than justice.

It is repulsive to think that Britain and the USA had, no matter what they say to the contrary, colluded with the Iraqi government in bringing about Saddam’s end in this way. Yes, it is true,  he probably was treated much better than he had treated many of his victims.

Be that as it may, we in Britain and the USA consider ourselves too civilized, too morally superior, to condone in any way blatant acts of revenge even when they are against someone as reprehensible as Saddam.

On January the 2nd Stephen Moss, a columnist with that same newspaper, was pondering the possibility that all the humiliation, taunting and bias that Saddam had suffered would in the end have pleased the late dictator.

.…..if a dictator has to die, this would surely be the way he would choose. One last stage, a worldwide audience at his command. Saddam’s final exchanges with his hooded, gangsterish executioners are already being mythologised. “Go to hell,” one is reported to have said. “The hell that is Iraq?” Saddam supposedly snaps back. A brilliant riposte from a man about to die.

To me this was another good reason why the Americans and British should have stepped in and made certain that he was not allowed to present himself as a martyr. Of course, it may be that both country’s were in fact so anxious to be rid of him that not only were they willing to allow him to be executed after being found guilty of one – relatively minor – crime but they were also willing the see him being thrown, as it were, to the dogs.

Both governments can be very crass when crassness serves an end. There are it seems to me two questions that we all have to ask ourselves; one is whether our government did enough to protest against the execution in first place and the second is whether it did enough to prevent it from the becoming the unseemly act of revenge it almost certainly became. The Guardian, in its leader, today put it very clearly.

The boundary between justice, however unpleasant, delivered by a responsible, sovereign government, and sectarian mob violence, was crossed in an explicit form.

The way in which the former Iraqi ruler died may not alter the underlying morality of his execution, an act which Britain should have opposed more firmly than it did and which was not universally supported even inside the Iraqi government, as President Jalal Talabani’s objections made clear. But the manner of Saddam’s death, ridden with chaos and malice, has made the act much more divisive and dangerous. It was justice delivered in its crudest form, by hooded men taunting Saddam with Shia slogans, the distillation of a fractured and lawless country. The possibility that the pictures were recorded by a senior Iraqi official, as Saddam’s prosecutor Munkith al-Faroon suggested yesterday, underlines the decayed state of what passes for central authority in the country.

It certainly does underline the “decayed state of what passes for central authority in the country”, but try telling that to Bush and Blair, and see the answer you get.   

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