Of the six billion people on this earth, not one killed more people than Saddam Hussein. And not just killed, but tortured and mutilated — doing so often with his own hands and for pleasure. It is quite a distinction to be the pre-eminent monster on the planet. If the death penalty was ever deserved, no one was more richly deserving than Saddam Hussein.
For the Iraqi government to have botched both his trial and execution, therefore, and turned monster into victim, is not just a tragedy, but a crime — against the new Iraq that Americans are dying for, and against justice itself.
In late 2005, I wrote about the incompetence of the Saddam trial and how it was an opportunity missed. Instead of exposing, elucidating and irrefutably making the case for the crimes of the accused — as was done at Nuremberg and the Eichmann trial — the Iraqi government lost control and inadvertently turned it into a stage for Saddam. The trial managed to repair the image of the man the world had last seen as a bedraggled nobody pulled cowering from a filthy hole. Now coiffed and cleaned, he acted the imperious president of Iraq, drowning out in the coverage seen around the world the testimony of his victims.
That was bad enough. Then comes the execution, a rushed, botched, unholy mess that exposed the hopelessly sectarian nature of the Maliki government.
Consider the timing. It was carried out on a religious holiday. We would not ordinarily care about this, except for the fact that it is in contravention of Iraqi law. It was done on the first day of Eid al-Adha as celebrated by Sunnis. The Shiite Eid began the next day, which tells you in whose name the execution was performed.
It was also carried out extra-constitutionally. The constitution requires a death sentence to have the signature of the president and two vice presidents, each representing the three major ethnic groups in the country (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd). That provision is meant to prevent sectarian killings. The president did not sign. Maliki contrived some work-around.
True, Saddam’s hanging was just and, in principle, nonsectarian. But the next hanging might not be. Breaking precedent completely undermines the death penalty provision, opening the way to future revenge and otherwise lawless hangings.
Moreover, Maliki’s rush to execute short-circuited the judicial process that was at the time considering Saddam’s crimes against the Kurds. He was hanged for the killing of 148 men and boys in the Shiite village of Dujail. This was a perfectly good starting point — a specific incident as a prelude to an inquiry into the larger canvas of his crimes. The trial for his genocidal campaign against the Kurds was just beginning.
That larger canvas will never be painted. The starting point became the endpoint. The only charge for which Saddam was executed was that 1982 killing of Shiites — interestingly, his response to a failed assassination attempt by Maliki’s own Dawa Party.
Maliki ultimately got his revenge, completing Dawa’s mission a quarter-century later. However, Saddam will now never be tried for the Kurdish genocide, the decimation of the Marsh Arabs, the multiple war crimes and all the rest.
Finally, there was the motley crew — handpicked by the government — that constituted the hanging party. They turned what was an act of national justice into a scene of sectarian vengeance. The world has now seen the smuggled video of the shouting and taunting that turned Saddam into the most dignified figure in the room — another remarkable achievement in burnishing the image of the most evil man of his time.
Worse was the content of the taunts: “Moqtada, Moqtada,” the name of the radical and murderous Shiite extremist whose goons were obviously in the chamber. The world saw Saddam falling through the trap door, executed not in the name of a new and democratic Iraq, but in the name of Sadr, whose death squads have learned much from Saddam.
The whole sorry affair illustrates not just incompetence but the ingrained intolerance and sectarianism of the Maliki government. It stands for Shiite unity and Shiite dominance above all else.
We should not be surging American troops in defense of such a government. This governing coalition — Maliki’s Dawa, Hakim’s SCIRI, and Sadr’s Mahdi Army — seems intent on crushing the Sunnis at all costs. Maliki should be made to know that if he insists on having this sectarian war, he can well have it without us.
(c) 2007, The Washington Post Writers Group