Wednesday, January 03, 2007

After Saddam: Investigating the execution

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You may recall that I called the execution of Saddam Hussein an act of sectarian vengeance. What with the taunting from his Shiite executioners and the references to Shiite warlord Moqtada al-Sadr from his guards. And the fact that the "new" Iraq that condemned him is largely Shiite and out for blood.

Well, even the "new" Iraq -- or parts of it anyway -- has found the conduct of the execution (if not the execution itself) to have been poorly executed:

As thousands of Saddam Hussein's supporters protested in Sunni Arab enclaves across Iraq, the Shiite-led government said it had launched an investigation into the chaotic scene at his execution, captured on video, which has deepened the nation's sectarian rift and sparked condemnation around the world.

Iraqi officials said a committee from the Interior Ministry would likely question everyone, including senior Iraqi officials, who was present at the hanging, where witnesses mocked and jeered the ousted president as he stood at the gallows. Hours later, grainy video of the event, taken with a cellphone camera, was broadcast around the world, bringing more pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take action.

The video triggered outrage, in Iraq and abroad, at Hussein's undignified and disorderly end. Iraq's Sunnis declared the execution an act of Shiite revenge. The Vatican, in its official newspaper, called the images from the hanging "a spectacle" that violated human rights and could harm Iraq's process of reconciliation. The Italian government, which like all members of the European Union opposes the death penalty, said after the appearance of the video that it would push at the United Nations for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment.

U.S. officials have declined to comment publicly, but have privately expressed concern at the hastiness of the execution, which came just four days after an appeals court upheld Hussein's death sentence.

This could turn out to be a show investigation to rival the show trial that sent Saddam to his death. After all, it was Maliki who wanted Saddam dead so soon. But at this point an investigation, any investigation, is better than no investigation, and it seems to me that the "new" Iraq must examine this appalling episode of its brief history if it is ever to move beyond sectarian violence and vengeance towards the rule of law and the protection of individual rights.

Saddam was a brutal tyrant, of course, but his execution and everything that led up to it are a stain on the fledgling state of post-Saddam Iraq.


What should have happened to Saddam?

He should have been tried at the International Criminal Court at The Hague for all his crimes against humanity, and not just for a specific event targeting Shiites, then sentenced to life imprisonment.

And although I say this with cautious trepidation -- given my lack of confidence in Bush, the warmongers, and the war effort -- what better punishment would there have been than for Saddam to witness the emergence of a democratic Iraq upon the ashes of his tyranny? Or even the partition of Iraq and the establishment of three separate states within a loose federal arrangement? The transformation of Iraq, whatever form that transformation takes, will take time. All the more reason, beyond the injustice of the death penalty, for life imprisonment.

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