Perhaps the biggest, non-event of the year occurred this weekend with the verdict of “Guilty”, and subsequent death sentence, on Saddam Hussein. This happening, just coincidentally close to the midterm American elections, excited media outlets to even greater fervor as polling day approaches. Saddam’s impending fate captivated the headlines, and held those with nothing better to do on a Sunday, glued to the TV screen.
Was anyone ever doubtful of the outcome? Did some enterprising, not to say optimistic, gambler bet his shirt on the ex-Iraqi president’s innocence? It’s doubtful; Saddam’s guilt was a conclusion as foregone as George W Bush stating the repubs will resoundingly win the midterm elections.
What was really in doubt, from the first moment Saddam entered a courtroom in the Iraqi “Green Zone”, was the trial being seen to be fair and just. The prosecution of a head of state, by an occupying nation through a puppet government, would be unacceptable to the US, or any other western nation, if it were to occur anywhere else but Iraq, and if the occupying power were other than American.
Saddam Hussein did not receive a fair trial. The defence was not allowed to present a proper case. Some may argue it didn’t matter; that his guilt was never in doubt. But it does matter. It matters because Saddam Hussein was removed from power by nations supposedly offering the people of Iraq something better. George W Bush still insists he is “spreading democracy” throughout the Middle East. Part and parcel of democracy is justice; both done, and seen to be done.
What are the Iraqi people to think when they witness a similar style of ‘justice’ as meted out in Saddam’s era, used to convict the dictator? They will believe justice is not important to democracy; only revenge.
Saddam Hussein will undoubtedly hang, though his death sentence has still to be ratified by the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Talabani won’t sign the papers. He doesn’t believe in the death penalty as punishment for a crime. However, he won’t insist on commuting the sentence to life imprisonment, as that would upset the Americans. Instead, he will take a similar stance to that of Pontius Pilate, when trying Jesus of Nazareth. He will wash his hands of the affair and leave it to one of his underlings.
There is a certain irony that links Saddam Hussein to Jesus of Nazareth. Both were leaders in their individual way; both were caught and brought before an occupying power; both were passed back to their own kind for trial and sentencing; both had followers who would use them as martyrs for a cause.
Of course, history tells us they were very different men. One was killed for, ostensibly, doing good; the other for doing bad. Each was, however, considered a threat by the occupying force of the time.
The whole concept of capital punishment has been debated on Sparrow Chat before, and regular readers are aware of the writer’s views – that it is utterly demeaning and debasing to the perpetrators, and besmirches humanity as a species.
Will hanging Saddam Hussein help bring the conflict in Iraq to an end? No. It will only make matters worse. What, then, is the point? Had the dictator been tried and found guilty at the Court of Criminal Justice in the Hague he would have spent the rest of his life in prison, far away from Iraq and any influence he may still have held there. As it is, his death will be seen as martyrdom by those who still support the Ba’athist regime, giving further excuse to escalate the violence and slaughter presently prevailing in the country.
Had the occupying forces done what was right, and removed Saddam Hussein for trial by an international court, the Iraqi people may have realized that democracy treats justice and revenge as separate issues that can never be compounded. Sadly, because the two are so frequently confused in the United States, it was never going to happen in Iraq while the Americans remain in control of the country.
Revenge can never be justice. In order for justice to be just, it must remain impartial. Americans, in general, have still not grasped that basic concept of democracy, and are not, therefore, – despite George Bush’s fanciful words – in a position to educate others on the subject.
Filed under: Defining democracy