Make no mistake about it. The execution of Saddam Hussein and his siblings is not one to cry about. That this megalomaniac was brutal and guilty of crimes against humanity is hardly controversial. That it brought some fulfillment to his long list of victims should not be under appreciated. As a Palestinian, I can sympathize with those powerless non-citizens who suffer from the brutal whims of unaccountable rulers.
However, that one deserves such a punishment does not mean that anyone has the right to execute. How it is done is important as well. Justice is not an isolated act, it is a system. As a system, a set of rules, it is vital to a society since it represents a backbone institution. It has to have procedural integrity to be legitimate. Coming up with popular outcomes is not enough. Anyone who does not see Saddam’s execution as a direct outgrowth of the American agenda in Iraq is too focused on the outcome, and not enough on the “how.” To execute Saddam under the color of an illegal, immoral military occupation is not just; it is illegitimate.
Can this be anything other than victor’s justice? How can past US administration officials not be tried for their material support, both diplomatic cover and actual arming, during many of Hussein’s most heinous orders? What about American officials who put into place the sanctions regime, which killed literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Why are these not punishable?
With the kinds of bullies in the Iraqi government, whose hands are clean enough to do the judging — especially as they understand the constitutional nature of force in keeping Iraq together? In this way, I am reminded of Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolf Eichmann as “a leaf in the whirlwind of time” — that is, a subject of the time and place (oil-rich Iraq post-Cold War). This is not to excuse Saddam’s excesses, but rather to place him in a context that calls for broader, institutionalized justice; rather than a slap-dash “court” in a country with no functioning legal system.
I would have liked to see a trial at the level of the International Criminal Court, the most credible venue for such a case. It is too bad the United States won’t back it, given the risk to American officials who break international law — even if the principle of the rule of law is the basic element of justice.
On a practical basis, the execution of Saddam Hussein does little for the development of Iraq. It represents vengeance, and not justice — just as Iraqi society is fracturing along avenging factions and parts. It is without foresight, serving the needs of political expedience rather than Iraqi institution-building.
His execution begs this question: who will be held accountable for the Iraqis killed by allied bombings, the contrived civil war, and the occupation?Filed Under american politics, iraq, war on terror, Will