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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

A revenge exacted by thugs
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 3, 2007, 01:28

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Saddam is gone. His execution is a "milestone" says US President George W. Bush who didn't allow it to interrupt his beauty sleep. Hours later some 80 Iraqi civilians lay dead, victims of sectarian violence.

It's interesting that while Europe rejects the death penalty in principle, it broadly supported Iraq's right to dispense "justice" according to its own laws. Yet many of those countries are not so gracious when it comes to Libyan law vis-�-vis the death sentence hanging over foreign medics, while British officials went through hell and high water to persuade Pakistan not to execute a British Pakistani for allegedly killing a taxi driver.

"History will judge these actions harshly," said Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch. Many ordinary people already are judging from more than 2,000 comments posted on the New York Times website.

These run from "As an American I feel ashamed of the role our government played I [in] his execution" to "just another senseless death in this so-called war on terror" and "Good riddance!" But most are overwhelmingly against the unfair trial and hurried execution.

Pope John Paul II described the invasion of Iraq as "a defeat for humanity". The execution of Saddam Hussain was surely an insult to Muslims carried out on the first day of the Muslim Eid Al Adha feast, traditionally a time for celebration.

An astute Arab News editorial asked how Americans would feel if Timothy McVeigh had been executed on Christmas Day.

If this was supposed to enhance the standing of either the Iraqi government or its American masters, it has failed dismally. The entire procedure was worthy of a bad Hollywood horror movie, except that the star forgot to shake with terror or utter a final bloodcurdling scream as the rope was placed around his throat.

British Labour Party MP Glenda Jackson likened the scene to an al Qaida beheading video. Certainly a second video captured on a mobile phone showing the hanging's gruesome details, to which the Fox News website helpfully directed its viewers, had the same eerily evil quality.

Calm and collected

Initially reports by government witnesses speaking on Western satellite channels were of a broken man with frightened eyes. But that was before the video showing Saddam calm and collected with Quran in hand ready to face his maker without the proffered hood. Yet this video evidence didn't prevent Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Malaki from later proclaiming Saddam "faced his fate like all tyrants, frightened and terrified."

They had offered him tranquilisers, which he refused. They offered him a last meal of chicken, which he declined. He asked for a last cigarette, which was denied. His guards gleefully reported their attempts to deny him a few moments of sleep during his final hours locked up in the dungeons of Iraq's Military Intelligence Headquarters.

And during his last moments on earth, these government-sponsored thugs, their heads covered with balaclavas like robbers, attempted to rob Saddam Hussein of his dignity with taunts and jeers. They didn't succeed.

There are many who will say he received better treatment than those for whose demise he was responsible. There is no doubt he committed crimes but we will never know for sure what they were.

We will never know whether he was the sole instigator of the eight-year-long war with Iran. We will never know the truth about weapons used in the Anfal campaign that took the lives of thousands of Iraqi Kurds. And we will never know whether the US gave Saddam the green light for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait via its ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, who keeps a low profile nowadays.

History has been cheated out of the truth because Saddam was held in US custody since his capture with limited and supervised access to lawyers and family. His court appearances were censored and references to US involvement were deliberately kept out of the proceedings.

It is surely no accident that Saddam was tried and executed for Dujail, where 148 villagers were put to death for allegedly conspiring to assassinate the president.

This was a convenient case without foreign linkage. One judge was ousted for being too soft. His replacement was a Kurd who made no secret of his animosity towards the accused or his contempt for the defence team.

The appeals court was equally tainted ratifying the death sentence even before it had time to properly review the case or read through documentation running to thousands of pages.

One thing is certain. Justice had nothing to do with Saddam's end. Political expediency and the raw emotion of revenge was its driving force. Justice would have taken the former Iraqi leader to The Hague or kept him in an Iraqi cell until the exit of the last foreign invader.


But the hooded thugs who said "let him hang there for three minutes," the jolly music on Iraqi television accompanying the hanging footage and the likening of the execution to an "Eid gift" by some Iraqi officials evidenced revenge and retribution.

Whoever believes that this was a proud day for Iraq, or even a milestone, is either misguided or morally challenged. The taking of human life can never be a gift or a cause for celebration and unless the Iraqi government and its backers get that simple absolute, the country's future looks grim.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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