Friday, December 29, 2006

The NYT and WaPo Editorialize on Hussein's Impending Execution

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The Washington Post and the New York Times have editorials today with opposing views on Saddam Hussein's impending execution.

Not surprisingly, Fred Hiatt sees no problem with the execution, even as he acknowledges that (a) he opposes the death penalty; and (b) the trial was a farce:

WITH TUESDAY'S decision by an Iraqi appeals body to affirm the death sentence of Saddam Hussein, the execution of the former tyrant could take place within weeks. Under Iraqi law, a death sentence must be carried out within a month of its confirmation; though Iraqi officials have made conflicting statements about timing, the country's Shiite-dominated government is unlikely to show mercy. For those who oppose the death penalty, as we do, any execution is regrettable -- and this one, should it come to pass, will follow highly imperfect judicial proceedings and may in the short term inflame sectarian divisions. But it's hard to imagine the death penalty existing anywhere for any crime and not for Saddam Hussein -- a man who, with the possible exception of Kim Jong Il, has more blood on his hands than anyone else alive. Should the world see his end in the coming days, the justice will be imperfect. But it will still be justice.

To be sure, this was not the accountability that one would hope for Saddam Hussein. For one thing, the crime for which he has been condemned -- the killing of 148 men and boys from the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt against him there in 1982 -- will be but a footnote in the volume detailing his atrocities. And his execution will cut short his trial for the crimes that would fill out that volume: the so-called Anfal campaign, in which tens of thousands of Kurds were murdered.

An excellent point, that -- but naturally Hiatt makes no mention of why the Anfal genocide was not included in the charges: because the United States government was complicit in that genocide. In fact, the U.S. government, under various administrations, was complicit in most of Saddam Hussein's human rights atrocities. The only one the Bush administration could find that would not raise the possibility of war crimes charges against the United States was this one murderous event in Dujail -- as Hiatt acknowledges, a mere "footnote in the volume detailing his atrocities."

The New York Times does not mention U.S. involvement in Saddam Hussein's crimes, either -- but it does at least grasp the point that the trial was a slap in the face to all Bush's lofty words about democracy, and that executing Hussein after such a mockery of democratic legal procedure underscores the fact that, really, Iraq is no closer to being a just society than it was before:

The important question was never really about whether Saddam Hussein was guilty of crimes against humanity. The public record is bulging with the lengthy litany of his vile and unforgivable atrocities: genocidal assaults against the Kurds; aggressive wars against Iran and Kuwait; use of internationally banned weapons like nerve gas; systematic torture of countless thousands of political prisoners.

What really mattered was whether an Iraq freed from his death grip could hold him accountable in a way that nurtured hope for a better future. A carefully conducted, scrupulously fair trial could have helped undo some of the damage inflicted by his rule. It could have set a precedent for the rule of law in a country scarred by decades of arbitrary vindictiveness. It could have fostered a new national unity in an Iraq long manipulated through its religious and ethnic divisions.

It could have, but it didn’t. After a flawed, politicized and divisive trial, Mr. Hussein was handed his sentence: death by hanging. This week, in a cursory 15-minute proceeding, an appeals court upheld that sentence and ordered that it be carried out posthaste. Most Iraqis are now so preoccupied with shielding their families from looming civil war that they seem to have little emotion left to spend on Mr. Hussein or, more important, on their own fading dreams of a new and better Iraq.

What might have been a watershed now seems another lost opportunity. After nearly four years of war and thousands of American and Iraqi deaths, it is ever harder to be sure whether anything fundamental has changed for the better in Iraq.

1 comment:

daniel said...

See a sarcastic visual of George Bush playing a round of “Hangman”…here:

www.thoughttheater.com