Burning Issues #10: Saddam on death row

JPost columnists share their thoughts on the Iraqi court's decision to sentence former dictator to death.

ronny gordon saddam 298 (photo credit: Illustration: Ronny Gordon)
ronny gordon saddam 298
(photo credit: Illustration: Ronny Gordon)
Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. Our aim is also to get you, our readers, involved, by sharing your opinions with the JPost community, or if you wish, by responding to any specific posting. A link to the writer's most recent column appears at the end of each posting.

Question #10

This time, only your thoughts on this historic day in which former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging Contributions by Daniel Pipes, Jonathan Tobin, Michael Freund, Elliot Jager, MJ Rosenberg and Isi Leibler. #9: The Lieberman factor #8: Should Israel invade Gaza? #7: Should President Katsav quit? #6: How should world react to N. Korean nuke test? #5: Should Israel change its system of gov't? #4: Should Israel support Abbas against Hamas? #3: Should Israel initiate talks with Syria? #2: Who is ahead, Bush or Ahmadinejad? #1: Should the Pope have apologized? Michael Freund: The conviction and sentencing of Saddam Hussein is a breathtaking act of historical justice. After all, what could possibly be more fitting than for this cruel man, who for decades oppressed the people of Iraq, to be tried and now found guilty by his fellow Iraqis? For years Saddam placed himself above the law, but now he too must submit to it. That lesson alone will give an important boost to the fledgling Iraqi democracy that is struggling to emerge - because all Iraqis will see that even the figure they once feared to criticize out loud cannot get away without paying a price for his crimes. And what is true for Saddam is also true for neighboring Arab countries too. The placing of the noose around Saddam's neck will undoubtedly send a clear, unequivocal and rather sobering message to other Arab dictators in the region, putting them all on notice that change is at last afoot in the Middle East. So to Saddam, let us say: goodbye and good riddance. Your demise won't come a moment too soon. Right On!: An appeal of faith to President George W. Bush Daniel Pipes: What to do with captured dictators? This has become an occasional problem for the US government at least since the defeat of the Axis in 1945. Fortunately, Hitler committed suicide and partisans dispatched Mussolini. But the emperor of Japan was given a free pass and remained in office until 1989. Two dozen high officials of the Nazi regime were sentenced and judged at the Nuremberg trials of 1945-46, with a number of them hanged; just imagine those proceedings had Hitler been the 25th defendant. In contrast, the far less evil Manuel Noriega of Panama has been since 1989 in an American jail cell, where he serves a 40-year sentence for drug-trafficking. In contrast to all these cases, the Bush administration distanced itself from the disposition of Saddam Hussein by leaving his fate in Iraqi hands. His Iraqi judges just sentenced Saddam and two aides to death for their role in the massacre of 148 Iraqis in the town of Dujail in 1982. This circumstance involves several dilemmas:
  • Allowing a dictator to rot in jail creates the fewest political problems but denies justice to those who suffered his oppression, whereas executing him provides the needed emotional closure but also may provoke further political turmoil.
  • Permitting a dictator to die a relatively painless death (by hanging or firing squad) is the decent thing to do; but submitting him to the same torture he inflicted on others would both provide psychological release for his victims and serve as a deterrent to other despots.
  • Turning a dictator over for judgment by co-nationals may save the Americans grief but at the expense of exacerbating local tensions (in this case, Sunni-Shi'ite relations). There are no good answers. The UN and EU are irrelevant Jonathan Tobin: The death sentence for Saddam Hussein is merely an act of justice. First, let us have no hand wringing about the nature of his trial. It was the right of the Iraqis to bring their former dictator to justice and they gave him as fair a trial as they could under the circumstances. Indeed, compared to wartime treason or espionage trials held in the United States or Britain during or just after World War II, it was a model of jurisprudence. As for the death penalty itself, which, no doubt, enlightened types in Europe or elsewhere will denounce as barbaric, it is, again, nothing less than justice. Indeed, like other mass murderers, Saddam is the poster-child for the death penalty. Let it be done swiftly. Sic semper tyrannis. Thus perish all tyrants. View from America: 'Rachel Corrie' is a liar Isi Leibler: Whilst having considerable reservations about widespread implementation of the death penalty, I strongly endorse terminating the life of those convicted of mass murder or involvement in terrorist activities resulting in the murder of innocent civilians. However it was counter productive and a reflection on the failure of democracy in Iraq for the prime minister to "support" implementing the sentence even before the court had the opportunity of pronouncing its verdict. This will only lead to further deterioration of the sectarian bloodshed and killings and encourage the emergence of a full-fledged civil war. Regrettably in these circumstances, Saddam Hussein's execution, which should have sent an educational message to the world about the evils of dictatorship and tyranny, will be perceived merely as an act of retribution by the victims. Weakness fosters anti-Semitism Elliot Jager: What's remarkable is that the court was able to come to any verdict. I can't recall a trial - perhaps in the history of jurisprudence - in which lawyers, judges, and prosecutors have been so openly intimidated by the enemies of justice. That Saddam deserves the guilty verdict is beyond dispute; that he merits the death penalty is also a no-brainer. But the verdict is also an opportunity to acknowledge that Iraq was the wrong battle in Western civilization's clash with the Islamist menace. Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still out there. They - and their theological / political message - always mattered far more than Saddam. Say 'yes' to the 'hudna' (truce) MJ Rosenberg: I have no strong feelings about the fate of this man although he clearly has earned a firing squad. But the Iraq incursion is essentially over. The United States will leave behind a broken nation and the dubious achievement of having put extremist Shi'ites in the driving seat throughout the Islamic world. Who would think Washington would actually come up with a scheme that would turn Iraq and Iran into allies. Thanks to this war both America and Israel are in danger, as never before, from Islamic fanaticism. What was America thinking? The only questions left about Iraq are (1) the timing of the US withdrawal, tomorrow or the day after (2) how we can make amends to the Iraqi people for the terrible damage we did to their country and (3) how can the United States government ensure that our foreign policy will never again be hijacked by a bunch of ideologues who - ignoring the military, the intelligence community, the State Department and most of our allies - dragged America into a war that has harmed America so much. Americans and Israelis need to know how this disaster happened. The scariest part is that America, the superpower, will survive this debacle. But Israel is now faced with Shi'ism on the march after a thousand years of more moderate Sunnism. One more point. The architects of this war helped destroy the Bush Presidency. In addition to their ignorance of the region, their willingness to manipulate intelligence to push the country into war, they also betrayed a President who invested so much trust in them. Executing Saddam Hussein may produce a sweet feeling in the heart. But it changes nothing. What a disaster. In Washington: Olmert should attend the next Arab summit