The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins

So Saddam is to hang after the least surprising verdict since the massed ranks of the European viewing public decided that our last entry into the Eurovision song contest was a complete bag of shite.

Meanwhile, George Bush, a man well known, from his time as Governor of Texas, for thinking long and hard about the rights and wrongs of the death penalty for all of, oh, thirty seconds, before slapping his John Hancock on the bottom of the execution warrant considers this to be a ‘milestone’ in the efforts of the Iraqi people to ‘replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law’. Now if only the Iraqi government could manage to quit hiding behind the heavily fortified ‘green line’ provided for them by the US and replace the rule of sectarian militias by the rule of law then we might really be making a bit of headway.

I should say, right from the off, that I have absolutely no time at all for the line of argument I’ve see cropping up here and there over the last day or so, which goes:

Well, I don’t agree with the death penalty but then Saddam was an evil bastard and it’ll give the Iraqis a bit of ‘closure’ and anyway its their country and their constitution and legal system does allow them the death penalty, which they wouldn’t have if we hadn’t invaded the country (and written therir constitution for them) and in the long run it’s probably all for the best and did I mention that Saddam was an evil bastard…

Oh just shut the fuck up, ferchrissakes.

Look, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that the death penalty can be justified, in general terms, for certain types of offences (i.e. murder, terrorism, etc.) then okay, fine. I disagree with you fundamentally but that’s cool, you are entitled to your opinion and to express that opinion freely and openly and I appreciate and respect your consistancy in this matter.

If, like me, you take the view that the dealth penalty, by its very nature, diminshes the moral authority of the state and should not be used in circumstances by a civilised nation then not only are you welcome to your views but I also have to say, ‘Hi.”, “I’m very pleased to meet you” and “Make yourself at home as I think we’re going get along and see eye to eye on a fair few things”.

However, if your view is that you don’t agree with the death penalty but Saddam was such an evil bastard, etc… etc… etc… so on this occasion maybe you could just stretch to making an exception on this one then you really haven’t got the first fucking idea of what you’re talking about.

Look, let me explain something to you, this whole business of putting Saddam on trial has been a failure from start to finish, okay?

Now, lets be fair here, its not the fault of the Iraqis or the Iraqi court in which Saddam stood trial. As far as I can see they’ve made the best they could of being lumbered with an altogether shitty job by the US-led coalition authority and its really not their fault that what they’ve ended up with looks for all the world like a completely meaningless show-trial in which the outcome was pre-determined from the outset. What else could they do when they were stuck with a defendant who had only two viable pleas open to him…

Saddam Hussein, you have heard the charges that have been put to the court. How do you plead? Guilty or Guity as hell?

In the circumstances, the Iraqis have done the best job they could of putting Saddam on trial and yet despite the conviction and sentence, neither of which were ever realistically in doubt, the trial has failed to deliver the one thing that Iraqis needed most from it; not the conviction and death (when that happens) of Saddam Hussein but the destruction of his personal ‘mystique’, along with that of the former Ba’athist regime which terrorised the Iraqi people for so many years.

To dispose, properly, of a tyrant, one must not only remove them from power but also destroy their aura of power. You have to ‘humanise’ them, no matter how inhuman they might appear. You have to  expose their weaknesses and frailties to the public gaze and, ultimately, break their psychological hold over the people they have ruled over by means of terror.

A trial, even one conducted to the highest judicial standards, is rarely an effective means of countering the psychological ‘power’ of a dictator unless one is extremely fortunate and either succeeds in visibly breaking the ‘spirit’ of the defendent in the dock or, as happened at the Nuremburg Tribunals with Albert Speer, one finds a defendant willing to not only admit their crimes but to accept collective responsibility and serve as a proxy for the entire regime of which they were a member.

To happen on such fortune is rare indeed (if only the Iraqis had been so lucky) and if we are to be entirely honest here then it has to be admitted that in terms both of effectiveness and expediency there is still much to recommend the methods adopted by the Italians, in divesting themselves of Mussolini, and the Romanians in disposing of Ceaucescu – there being nothing quite so effective in destroying the aura of a tyrant than an ignominious (and very public demise) at the hands of his own people, for all that this is a far from being a civilised solution to such a problem.

Saddam may end his days at the end of an Iraqi rope, but unless the Iraqis are prepared to disregard the propriety of the judicial process which brought about his end by making a public display of his carcass (preferably naked and having first shaved his head and beard) his death wil be a relatively civilised and private one that will see him go to his grave with his personal mystique and status amongst his followers largely, if not fully, intact -and all to the detriment of those (the Iraqi people) who most need to slough off the psychological shackles of his tyranny.

It would be better that he does not hang, not only to deny him his ‘martyrdom’, which is how his death will be interpreted by his supporters, but also as a demonstration of the moral authority of the new Iraqi administration, which would be best displayed by an act of clemency, the commutation of his sentence to life imprisonment without parole and his transfer out of Iraq to serve his sentence under the jurisdication of the International Criminal Court.

The is one avenue left to the Iraqi courts by which it could still succeed in stripping Saddam of his personal aura, for all that his trial failed to achieve such a task, and that would be by withholding the death penalty and making a simple statement – we could execute you, but we are better than you and choose not to.

7 thoughts on “The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins

  1. What International Criminal Court ( ICC ) you are talking about when everybody knows….

    1. The Jokers that fix the trial process did not believe in one ICC

    2. One Guy who are advising those in the white was
    served with a court warrant for the mass murder of QANA and he seemed to be able to get away with it.

    3. Are we all double standard morons! You fail to highlight the jokers who were involved in Iraqi genocide since the sanctions days ….ie the whitehouse occupants….

    4. This is a war an a justice of ” I Kill better than thou” characters.

    5. The Iraqis sgould hang all of them….local &
    foreign elements …

    from the rubber trees of Malaya.

  2. Reminiscent of something Martin Amis once wrote:

    “Doesn’t Texas sometimes seem to resemble a country like Saudi Arabia, with its great heat, its oil wealth, its brimming houses of worship, and its weekly executions?”

  3. Leaving aside manan’s thoughts for a good while, it sounds like we want all the advantages of a legal system (state-approved punishment, for one) without the inconveniences of due process and an independent judiciary. Can we answer the question of why the death sentence was handed down without saying the whole system is an American stitch-up? Perhaps the judges have thought about the same issues that you have. If not, then (a) that would be a shame – and errors of great magnitude are (in hindsight) made by judges everywhere, (b) surely this is a matter where the nascent Iraqi legal community, and campaigning organisations, can and should play a part, now that they have freedom to act. If that proved to be the case, it could provide the healthiest outcome of all. For what it’s worth.

  4. Someone made the point that if you can’t give the deposed leader of Iraq a fair trial, what confidence will Iraqis have that anyone else is going to get a fair one? In other words, for Bush to say that the rule of law has been restored by this trial is not only to ignore events in Iraq, but to ignore events in and around the court. George. Your a schmuck!

  5. American stitch-up? Not really what I was thinking, B4L.

    American cock-up. Yes.

    A further example, if more were needed, of the Bush administration’s lack of foresight and understanding of the situation they blundered into in Iraq. Definitely.

    And certainly also yet more evidence of the flaws anf failings in the US’s unilaterist position on intervention.

    I’m certainly not arguing for the advantages of a legal system without the inconveniences of due process et al, merely pointing out that for all its benefits, due process can have its political and psychological limitations in dealing with criminality of the order of magnitude one encounters in a tyrant such as Saddam because one of its key benefits – it’s civilising effect, if you like – tends to limit its ability to ‘humble’ the oppressor in the eyes of the oppressed, the latter being a necessary part of the process of breaking the psychologicial hold of the tyrant.

    Its a paradox.

    The Iraqis desperately need a visibly working system of justice and jurisprudence to cement the rule of law, but the system itself mitigates against an important part of the process of throwing off the shackles of tyranny.

    By contrast, summary justice at the hamds of the mob after the fashion of the fate of Mussolini, does nothing to cement the rule of law but provides the populace with the psychological release from tyranny that they need.

  6. To be fair, Julaybib, the enormity of Saddam’s crimes against his own people are such that any trial in an Iraqi court would appear suspect.

    One of the touchstones of due judicial process is its impartiality and it would, quite understandably, be impossible to produce a single Iraqi who could genuinely be said to be impartial in the view of Saddam. That’s not a criticism of the Iraqi people, merely a reflection of the all pervasive influence of Saddam and the Ba’athist regime.

    It would have been better, from that stand-point, for Saddam to have faced an international war-crimes tribunal, while leaving the Iraqi courts to deal with the lesser members of his regime.

    Iraqi justice would not have have suffered for not having dealt directly with Saddam, who gave the orders, provided it succeeded in prosecuting and convicting those who put those orders into practice and in many respects justice at that level is more immediate and personal.

    Standing in the shoes of a Shia or Kurd whose family was massacred one Saddam’s orders, would you be satisfied if only the man who gave the orders was brought to book or would you not also wish to the see the man who pulled the trigger also tried for their crimes? – remembering that ‘I was only following orders’ was established at Nuremburg as affording no valid defence in such matters.

  7. I suppose one of the problems of the Americans giving him a full and fair trial at an international tribunal for war crimes would be that a lot of his dictorship was taken up being a stooge of US ‘foreign policy’: his rise to power, the attack on Iran, yada … yada.

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