The flawed trial and execution of
Saddam Hussein deal a heavy blow to the Bush administration’s goal of creating a
Hussein’s brutal reign was marked by
crimes against humanity — wars of aggression against Iran and Kuwait,
indiscriminate killing of Iraqi Shias and mass killings of Iraqi Kurds — that
mirrored those of his role model, Stalin. Yet, a show trial and indecent
execution are unlikely to persuade Iraqis, and others in the
The 30-month legal process was marred throughout — by sectarian partiality, the killing of three defense lawyers, threats against the lives of judges and repeated disruptions from what has become a civil war.
The trial focused on crimes against humanity, particularly, the killing of 148 Shia teenage boys and men in Dujail in 1982. Lost in the proceedings was his greater crime of genocide committed against 180,000 Kurds killed by mustard gas in Halabjah in 1988. Where in the proceedings was justice for the Kurds?
Hussein’s execution was carried out without full regard for Iraqi law. The execution decree requires the signature of the Iraqi president together with two vice-presidents. But President Jalal Talebani, who does not believe in the death sentence on principle, refused to sign it, though he did not object to it.
The execution also was conducted in haste and in a way guaranteed to nurture a sense of injustice among Sunnis. The Iraqi court of appeal decreed a death sentence with a deadline of 30 days, but the sentence was carried out only a few days later. And while the Iraqi constitution, which follows Islamic custom, prohibits execution on holy days, the execution was carried out on Id al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice — and on the day celebrated by the Sunnis.
Similar to the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Hebrew Torah and the Christian Bible, Id al-Adha commemorates the story in the Muslim Qur’an in which Prophet Abraham showed his willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael for God, but was spared from doing so when a goat appeared. The feast is celebrated by the slaughter of a goat, a lamb, or a camel. Because of the way Hussein’s execution was carried out, some supporters of the ruthless dictator now view him as a sacrificial lamb.
The trial also failed to uphold the minimal civilities associated with sentencing, even for those who have committed heinous crimes. Hussein was denied his wish to be executed by firing squad rather than by hanging, in effect, disregarding humanitarian criminal justice.
To add insult to injury, the executioners of Hussein, a Sunni, were Shia. Amidst a chaotic hanging process they began shouting — “Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!” — a reference to the firebrand, anti-American and anti-Sunni Shia cleric Moktada al-Sadr.
There are two profound lessons for
the Iraqi and American governments in this pitiful chapter of history. To build
a new and democratic