Sunday, December 31, 2006

Vengeance, not justice

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I don't have much more to say about Saddam Hussein's execution.

I wrote about it extensively before it took place -- see here -- and Creature wrote the words I was searching for in a subsequent post -- see here: "I feel sad, not for Saddam, but for what we have become."

This was America's doing, and America should not have allowed it to happen. To the extent that Iraq was involved, I argued at the time, it was vengeance, not justice. The video of the execution is out there -- I won't link to a site that has posted it, but you can find it easily -- and what we see is that Saddam was taunted by his executioners. And those executioners were Shiite. They did not represent any sort of "new" Iraq. And two of the guards shouted "Moqtada," referring to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose militia is very much at the center of the sectarian violence that has thrown post-Saddam Iraq into civil war. And one of the guards shouted that Saddam had "destroyed us" and "killed us". Us. Saddam was executed not just by those linked by sectarian attachment to his victims but by Iraqi sectarianism itself. He was a tyrant, to be sure, but he was also from the other side, a Sunni. Would these executioners have behaved the same way towards a condemned Shiite tyrant? Surely not.

Saddam was convicted specifically of a crime against Shiites, but, to repeat, this was not justice, it was vengeance. What Iraq needs is justice, not vengeance, but perhaps this execution of vengeance reflects the state of Iraq today. There is no justice in Iraq.

The Times has a recount of the execution here.

I had no compassion for Saddam, just as I had no compassion for Milosevic or Pinochet, just as I have no compassion for Kim Jong-il or any of the other tyrants who still commit crimes against humanity, but compassion has nothing to do with this. What matters is justice. What matters is the rule of law as some sort of imperfect reflection of justice.

There was no justice in Iraq under Saddam, but nor was there any justice for Saddam himself. Did he deserve justice? There are many who say no. There are many who say that, justice or no, Saddam got what he deserved, or that he deserved far worse.

But are we not better than Saddam? Should not the "new" Iraq be better than Saddam? Should there not be justice in the "new" Iraq?

Or is this what we have become?

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