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The Moral Dilemma of Saddam’s Execution

by Alamgir Hossain

30 Dec, 2006

Within days of Saddam Hussein’s capturing power in Iraq in 1979, he had summoned his top 400 officials and told them there was a plot against him. Saddam coolly puffed a cigar as spelt out the names one after another and to the disbelief of the officials present, they were standing amongst them. Saddam executed 22 officials, not only to consolidate his power but he also video-taped the execution and distributed it across the country to send a message to the Iraqi people. [A Profile of the Ruthless Dictator, AP]

In reality, the alleged plot was a lie. It was also meant for his policy of exterminating anyone he had any suspicion about. He applied this stamp of his policy until his last days in power, before the United States led coalition forces ousted him in 2003. This was a policy, which kept him in absolute command amongst the powerful people in the government.

When two of his sons-in-law defected and fled to Jordan, he was not satisfied with them being alive, although they never caused any threat to him. His son Uday threatened to assassinate the Jordan king for giving asylum to them. Saddam pursued them, offered them amnesty and protection. They were both treacherously assassinated within hours of their arrival in Baghdad in 1996. Such is the guile and ruthless policy with which he had pursued even the least threatening enemy, even if they be his closest of family members.

Saddam, born in 1937, as a fatherless child was treated badly by his stepfather. He ran away and his maternal cousin Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr brought to their home. They grew up and went to school together under the guardianship of his uncle. Both cousins joined the bath party, which took absolute hold on power in Iraq in 1968 with his cousin Gen. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr at the head. Gen. al-Bakr appointed the trusted cousin, Saddam, as his deputy and since that day Saddam pursued a policy of exterminating his perceived enemies without failure. However, his cousin Gen. al-Bakr, who helped him ascend to such a pinnacle of power from a mistreated stepchild, also could not avoid the ruthless ire of his policies. He finished off his cousin in 1979 over some policy disagreement and took hold of Iraq by himself. Since then, his authority in Iraq was hardly ever shaken during his 24-year hold on power.

A ruthless dictator with a cruel and murderous zeal towards his enemies, his murderous spree did not remain limited within his top circle but spread all across the Iraqi society. He mercilessly killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. About 200,000 Shiites were brutally slaughtered as a reprisal against a failed revolt after the 1991 gulf war. In the 1987-88 campaigns in the Kurdish northern Iraq, he slaughtered 180,000 Kurds including those 5000 in chemical attack in town of Halabja in March 1988.

His ruthlessness did not remain within the boundary of his country. He attacked Iran in 1980, within one year of ascending to power. The eight-year-long Iraq-Iran war resulted in about a million deaths on both sides of the border. With his failure to capture the powerful Iran, he now sought a smaller enemy and invaded Kuwait, barely two years after the war with Iran ended in 1988.

The United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq for the Kuwait invasion and the US-led forces, with the UN sanction, attacked Iraq for liberating Kuwait. The first gulf war ensued, which Saddam termed "the mother of all battles" to his countrymen and to the Ummah. Much to the disappointment of the Ummah, the Iraqis were driven out of Kuwait by the US-lead forces. The 1991 war triggered uprisings among Iraq's Shiites, which Saddam brutally crushed and slaughtered about 200,000 of them in revenge. However, the US and British forces came to the rescue, albeit belatedly, to curve out self-ruled areas for the Shiites in the South and for the Kurds in the north, protected by aerial surveillance and bombing of Saddam’s incursion from the Saudi bases.

The September 11 (2001) terrorist attack in the US proved a nemesis to Saddam despite his no involvement in the attack. Saddam had frustrated the UN and the US in particular by his years of defiance and disregard for the UN Security Council resolutions, such as his expulsion of weapons inspection teams in 1996. His announcement of rewards for the Palestine suicide-bombers and the promise of constructing memorials for the female suicide-bombers ignited a horrible surge of suicide-bombing against Israel. A crushing UN sanctions was causing havoc to the Iraqi people without doing any harm or cause of concern to Saddam’s hold on power.

The neocons in Bush administration sought to do away with Saddam for good. The US-lead coalition, without a blessing of the UN Security Council, invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003 and within weeks his government collapsed and he was eventually captured in December, 2003. As Iraq, plunged into terrible insurgency and civil war, the judicial procedure of his case dragged on. Eventually his was sentenced to death for the reprisal murder of 148 Shiites in a 1982 botched assassination attempt on him in the town of Dujail, which is only a tip of his vast criminal atrocities. Iraq's highest court rejected Saddam's appeal within 30 days on Thursday (December 28, 2006). He was executed two days later on Saturday morning, ending all speculations about him and his fate.

AP Photo: This video image released by Iraqi state television shows Saddam Hussein's guards wearing ski masks...

Saddam’s execution will raise debates and reactions across all sections of the society: a sigh of relief and satisfaction amongst those who suffered at his hand and ire and rage amongst his supporters. The humanists, left-liberals and human rights organizations, who are against death penalty in general, have all along made much noise about Saddam’s likely death and some have even pointed to the fear of reprisals his execution will incite amongst his followers. The Baathist insurgent groups and the Sunnis have already threatened reprisals if he would be put to death. And of course, the bigger sections of the Iraqis (Shiites and Kurds in general), the Iranians and the Kuwaitis, who have suffered so terribly at his hand, must be satisfied with what happened to his fate on Saturday.

The miserable turmoil that Iraq ran into against the rosy hope of bringing democracy, peace, prosperity and justice through Saddam’s ouster, justice to him, whether execution or not, has lost much significance and luster to the Iraqis. After the initial euphoria or rage, the Iraqis will definitely concentrate more on what happens on the streets of Baghdad tomorrow than what Saddam’s death might mean to them.

Being a reserved opponent to death punishment myself, I find it hard as to how to put my judgment across over Saddam’s execution. I have always thought even the most civilized and good citizens of the world may run into a situation or provoked into a point, where he/she can commit any crime, including murder. This does not change the fact that the person is otherwise a good and valuable citizen of the nation. Crimes in moment of rage, delusion, provocation or desperation should always be seen with sympathy, simply because the person is the victim of his natural instincts and the situation he/she was put in.

But he, who commits cold-blooded murders one after another for the sole purpose of securing or even expanding his/her own comfort and power – I personally have reservation about no-death-punishment stand regarding such cases. When such cases have been conclusively proven and there is a definite reason to believe the person will repeat the same if ever released into the society, I find it hard as to how deal with such cases. What is the meaning of holding such persons in jail until his death, whose remaining days will not add any value to the society but instead would burden the society which has already suffered badly from his/her actions?

Saddam is definitely one such case. Releasing him would create great troubles for the Iraqis and even holding in jail would hugely burden the Iraqi society because of the extraordinary security which must be provided. Most of all, on the same day Saddam was executed; dozens of others around the world have faced the same fate for insignificant crimes when compared to Saddam’s. I have little time to split my hairs over the morality of executing Saddam for whatsoever arguments.

Yet, I would hope that what happened to him would deter or restrain aspiring mass-murderers in the future. It sends a strong message that wherever you do your crime; you may not get away with it. Stopping the birth of one dictator may save thousands to hundreds of thousands of rather innocent lives. If disposing with a dangerous, worthless and burdensome person who has committed such vast crimes against humanity, might lead to such a future prospect, I think I would snap it.   [Hit Counter]