2006 ended with a lot of newsy events including the deaths of three prominent people: The Godfather of Soul James Brown, former President Gerald Ford and toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Brown and Ford deserve all the adulation they are recieving. Ford was probably the best Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower. But Hussein’s departure came at the end of a noose and is now the subject of much consternation in Iraq over the way the Iraqi government carried out the execution. I have no desire to seek out the videos of the execution which are no doubt circulating on the Web, but from what I’ve read the hurried midnight execution devolved into a shameful spectacle with hooded executioners dancing around taunting the 69-year-old despot and chanting the name of their new hero - Moqtada! Moqtada! Moqtada!
From the NYTimes:
“...those who conducted it (the execution) had allowed it to deteriorate into a sectarian free-for-all that had the effect, on the video recordings, of making Mr. Hussein, a mass murderer, appear dignified and restrained, and his executioners, representing Shiites who were his principal victims, seem like bullying street thugs.”
The Iraqi government appears to have ignored its own constitution by carrying out the execution on the beginning of a Muslim holiday. That should serve as a warning to all the ardent war supporters and a slap in the face to all those who insist that we are witnessing the birth of democracy in the Middle East. The fact that the current regime in Iraq has such a low opinion of its own constitution is a bad sign for the long-term prospects of democracy in Iraq.
I am opposed to the death penalty on principle and I think a more fitting fate for Saddam would have been to spend the rest of his life being tried and convicted for the thousands of atrocities committed under his rule. But one cannot argue that Saddam did not deserve his fate. He clearly deserved that and much worse, but the death penalty is not just about what the convict deserves. The most important thing is what it says about the people currently in power. It speaks to their character and their humanity, and on that scale Saddam’s execution, and especially the way it was carried out, was indeed a sad note. If they wanted to prove that they could be just as cruel and vindictive as Saddam was, then Mission Accomplished. However, if they wanted to draw a distinction between the old regime and the new one, this was not the way to go about it.