Please let me make it clear immediately that I am no fan of Saddam Hussein. A ruthless thug, a merciless killer, and a power-craving lunatic for certain, Saddam created the atmosphere in Iraq that caused millions to suffer persecution. Despite what I believe has been an ill-advised American military venture in Iraq, there is no question that Saddam’s own repugnant behavior as president of his country caused two military invasions and the loss of many more lives.
Still, despite “his crimes against humanity” and all the other horrendous things the man did, his execution does not make me satisfied in the least. As a fairly faithful Christian, I do not condone the death of another person for any reason by any means. The execution of a person by the state, whichever state it may be, does not eradicate its violation of one of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not kill” is not prefaced with anything like “except if it is a judicially condoned execution” and, in my mind, this is one of the most essential commandments, one that delineates a civilized society from that which is just a barbaric state.
I often hear people talking about capital punishment as a deterrent for crimes. I think if we examine the history of most murderers, rapists, kidnappers, and whoever else may be eligible for the death penalty, we can see that its possibility does not stop them from going out and committing the crime. As for brutal dictators, I am sure Saddam’s swinging from the gallows doesn’t send a shiver down their spines. They are not going to stop their troops from slaughtering innocents or their secret police from torturing people because of a possible execution. Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, and Slobodan Milosevic are all perfect examples of past leaders without any concerns about a system that might eventually bring them to justice and execute them.
Once a leader like Saddam is captured and convicted, the moment is ripe for setting an example to others of his ilk. Instead of executing him, place him in an irrevocable sentence of life in prison with hard labor (with emphasis on the hard). Make his life, whatever is left of it, as miserable as he made other people’s lives. This takes the onus off a state that allows executions and, more importantly, it shines a light on that state as a beacon of civilization.
Besides the fact that I personally think that the state should not kill someone, there is an even more important issue at stake here. By killing the convicted person in a state-ordered execution, we are giving that prisoner the easy way out. In my experience it seems that most of these “death row inmates” who have been merciless thugs and killers want out. They do not want to suffer in a small jail cell for another thirty or forty years; they want to go out in some kind of glory. Even now there are former Saddam loyalists in Iraq who are looking at his death as “glorious” and as part of the war against the Satanic American government. Saddam’s martyrdom and rise in stature as a legend is a given, especially in Sunni dominated parts of Iraq (and other countries as well).
By giving Saddam what he ultimately wanted (make no mistake, Saddam wanted death because he could not accept his confinement in American hands), we have handed his followers and insurgents his head on a silver platter. He becomes something of a hero, the guy who stood up to the Americans, much like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace stood up to the English and died for it in the film Braveheart. This also relegates the current Iraqi state to the status of American lapdog, because Saddam’s hanging will certainly be sensationalized by our enemies and used to foment even more anti-Western, anti-American acts of violence.
We had a wonderful opportunity in the capture of Saddam Hussein to show the world our decency and civility. This was a chance to highlight our American values, to let everyone know we are a nation of law and order and, above all, justice. We could show everyone that even a man as ruthless and brutal as Saddam Hussein would receive equitable treatment and then punishment after conviction. A life sentence would have pushed Saddam into a long nightmare of confinement and suffering and eventual obscurity (does anyone ever really think about someone like Charles Manson or David Berkowitz anymore?); his execution gives him an easy exit and makes him relevant to all those who would oppose the USA and its allies all over the world.
I know there will be many who disagree with me, but I believe the fallout from this execution will become very apparent early in the new year. We will understand that this miscalculation will have reverberations from the Middle East to Indonesia, and in the end the death of one tyrant will seem inconsequential in light of the enormous political and economic upheaval that will negatively affect us in 2007.