December 20, 2003


Bush wants Saddam to hang, but we must resist: The US president is reflecting his own brutish view of the world (Max Hastings, December 20, 2003, The Guardian)

We can agree, perhaps, that Saddam Hussein does not deserve to live. It is a pity that he made no show of resistance when American soldiers found him, to justify tossing a grenade into his spider hole. But he did not fight, and was captured alive. Next year, some sort of tribunal will find him guilty of unspeakable crimes. Thereafter it will be inconvenient and expensive to guard him through a long captivity.

Yet those of us who reject judicial killing can support no sentence other than life imprisonment. [...]

My wife, whose liberal instincts are normally much more reliable than mine, is bemused by my scruples. She believes the case is unanswerable for the dictator's cheap, permanent removal. But I cannot swallow either the principled or pragmatic arguments for yet another act of government-directed violence.

The allies rightly executed the leading Nazi and Japanese war criminals in 1945 and 1946. That was in another age, after the victors had fought the greatest war of national survival the world has seen. Bush's intervention in Iraq, by contrast, represented a war of choice, with the limited purpose of changing the nation's government.

If it is now to become US policy to execute former dictators who have committed terrible crimes against their own people, then many past and some current American clients will need to form an orderly queue to the gallows.

In reality, Bush's eagerness to see Saddam swing reflects not an overarching objection to murderous dictators, but an ad hominem desire to complete the liberation of Iraq with a gesture that fits his own brutish view of the world. The least Blair can do, on Britain's behalf, is to say that we can no more endorse the sponsorship of a hanging carried out by Iraqi stooges of the coalition, than fly out Geoff Hoon to do the job personally.

How precious are Mr. Hastings's scruples: had Saddam fired a round it would have been just great to blow him to bits in a hole, but decency forbids that he hang after a proper trial for killing one million Iraqis. Even better, the very same decency somehow allows for the hanging of Nazis, who, not coincidentally, made war against Britain. The principle involved seems clear: to so much as shoot at an Anglo calls for death, but no amount of Arab blood can justify capital punishment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 20, 2003 11:19 PM

I don't know, or care, about Hastings' principled objections, but here in the US, the number one objection seems to be the chance of making an error.

A good objection, but there are plenty of cases in which there is no possibility of a mistake. So it's OK to electrocute those, right?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 21, 2003 12:26 AM

Wogs start at Kennebunkport?

The funny thing is, we could put this to a vote of British citizens and still get to put him down.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 21, 2003 1:29 AM

What would be interesting to see is millions marching in London to keep Saddam alive (while the Guardian and BBC sponsor call-in campaigns regarding how many "feel" Bush deserves assassination).

And one can sympathize with Ken Livingston's quandary, wondering as he might whether he should award Saddam honorary citizenship of his fair city---if he waits too long, he may well be trumped by Paris.

)Of course, there's nothing, I suppose, to prevent Saddam from having dual honorary citizenship....)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 21, 2003 2:13 AM

The principle involved seems clear: to so much as shoot at an Anglo calls for death, but no amount of Arab blood can justify capital punishment.

This is cruel, vicious, brilliant, and completely deserved. Perhaps were it put to Mr. Hastings this way, it might even give him pause.

Posted by: John Thacker at December 21, 2003 4:01 PM

I kind of liked the suggestion I read from some blogger to try him, convict him and put him back in the hole.

Lord of all he surveys.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 21, 2003 6:32 PM

Excellent suggestion. Killing him might be too humane.

I read in an article that one Iraqi suggested they put Saddam in the Baghdad zoo, so he could take his kids there to look at him from time to time.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 22, 2003 2:49 AM

We can't even give him a physical without being charged with crimes against humanity and inflaming the Arab street.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 22, 2003 4:00 PM