Saddam Hussein’s execution could be symbolic of the end of a torrid era, a sign of a country moving on, and a blow to the forces of evil in the name of democracy, freedom and all things good. Let the world rest a safer and better place. But do the facts on the ground match the rhetoric? Was the trial and execution of Saddam as much about propaganda as it was about justice?
This is not an exercise in apologetics for a despicable and despotic regime. Saddam Hussein was a particularly bloody and malevolent dictator, responsible for co-ordinated sectarian violence and genocide. His removal from power is a step in the right direction for Iraq. However, considering the extensive financial and human costs of protracted conflict, surely a considered analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of the Coalition’s strategy in Iraq is worthwhile.
When Saddam Hussein’s taunters fell silent, after the bravado and after his last breath, a form of justice had been dispatched. But apart from concluding a horrific chapter of Iraq’s history, just what had his execution solved? Iraq is still a quagmire, a military mistake and civil war is entrenched. Violence and death still reign supreme, and murderers still roam the streets. It seems the symbolism of Saddam’s death is facile in the face of facts.
Not only is there widespread and chaotic unrest throughout Baghdad and Basra, the Coalition forces, whose commission was to liberate Iraq, have instead been caught out contributing to the morass of immorality.
Nine days prior to the execution of Saddam Hussein, charges including murder, dereliction of duty, failure to investigate and obstruction of justice were filed against eight US Army Marines concerning the death of 24 Iraqi citizens in Haditha in November 2005.
A second and more disturbing case involves the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman, and the murder of her family by a 21-year-old army officer who had been diagnosed as a homicidal threat just months prior to the crimes. Saddam or no Saddam, evil is present in Iraq, on both sides of the conflict.
Yet, in spite of the realities, the spin on Saddam’s execution by the leaders of the coalition whose forces invaded Iraq in 2002 was predictable. Bush and Howard talked about justice being served; Blair echoed them but stated that his country did not approve of the death penalty. John Howard extended his bizarre logic to suggest that Saddam Hussein’s execution was a sign of a functioning legal system and a country seeking to embrace democracy.
Yet the very infrastructure of democracy, justice and law and order in Iraq is contestable. This was not lost on Saddam Hussein who, among his personal threats, vigorously protested the legitimacy of the court system during his trial.
Perhaps his protestation would have been no different had the trial been held under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. At least there he would have been assured a transparent and fair, though not expeditious, trial. But it is precisely these issues that fuel the fires in the bellies of his supporters.
The lack of law and order compounds the problem. Saddam Hussein was tried in a country where law and order is at times fractious and at others nonexistent.
What is the point of a legal system in a country where the police force is at best blatantly ineffective, and at worst, part of the problem? Only a week prior to the execution of Hussein, British troops in Basra closed down and destroyed a police station that had become the centre for torture and sectarian violence, perpetrated by members of the Iraqi police force.
The swift trial and execution of Saddam is an atypically Western response to the presence of unthinkable evil. It is too easy to isolate the original architects and perpetrators, and portray them as monsters and significantly different to us. But as the violence in Iraq proves, Saddam’s evil is resident in many more than just the upper echelons of Baath Party extremists.
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