By S. GOPIKRISHNA
Saddam Hussein’s hanging had many a minus point: the timing, the inexplicable hurry, the heckling, and the sheer incompetence with which his sidekicks were hanged. While the event proved to be a tragedy of errors, the biggest tragedy would be to question the long-term impact of Hussein’s hanging.
Some prefer to interpret the hanging as America’s way of proving they won in Iraq and question the Unites States’ moral authority in conducting Hussein’s trial. They say the United States has blood on its hands from Vietnam, Central America, and other places. Is it morally right for a murderer to judge others?
To answer this rhetorical question one must distinguish between moral and judicial perspectives on justice.
Moral processes are individualistic, and what is morally right in one person’s eyes may be wrong in another’s. Morality presumes the moral superiority of the judge over the judged while the judicial process makes no assumptions about the relative morality of the various parties (although high moral character is a must for judgeship). A judicial process focuses on the accused and discusses his innocence without reference to the character of the prosecutor and judge. The moral character of the judge, let alone the United States, has no legal bearing on Hussein’s trial; it is strange that the one aspect haunting the morally superior was not even discussed by Saddam’s defense.
Even if the Americans (or any nation for that matter) are not paragons of virtue, they should be complimented for holding Hussein accountable for all that he did in Iraq—the genocides and murderous mayhem. The trial brought recognition to the plight of innocent people massacred in Dujail; it proved that the long arm of justice does reach out to every culprit and grab them by the neck before meting out appropriate justice. In a region where lawbreakers double as lawmakers, what is more uplifting than seeing a murderer meet the very fate to which he condemned thousands?
The hanging of Hussein, however flawed, is a real shot in the arm to the establishment of democracy in Iraq, a process that has been fitful when not comatose. The United States has done itself a great favor by eliminating a rallying figure for everything despicable—from racism (treatment of Kurds) to chauvinism. (How can a non-Arab rule an Arab country?) Hussein’s fate will strike fear into the hearts of dictators in the Middle East, from a bellicose Basher Al-Assad to the sinister Mohamed Ahmedinejad.
Hussein’s trial and hanging seems to be the exception to the recurring theme of Murphy’s law in the American occupation of Iraq: If anything can go wrong, it will.
Toronto-based S. Gopikrishna writes on issues pertinent to India and Indians.
No, the hanging has made the U.S. look bad
By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
The precipitate hanging of former President Saddam Hussein of Iraq on Dec. 30, 2006, was probably counter-productive. For one thing, it has made a martyr of him, and for another, it hasn’t made life any less violent in Iraq. But the real damage was to America’s image: for it is hard to escape the impression of victors’ justice.
The crime for which Hussein was hanged was that of killing 148 people in Dujail. But there are far bigger crimes for which he could and should have been tried, for instance, the campaign against Kurds in which 100,000 may have been killed. A protracted trial would have been in America’s interest to show that Hussein was indeed the monster they portrayed him to be.
But the whole affair has made the Iraqi courts look like kangaroo courts controlled by Americans. This is unfortunate, especially at a time when American credibility is diminishing—this is no way for a hyperpower to behave. Ceasar’s wife must be beyond reproach. Even the appearance of impropriety is verboten if you want others to accept pax Americana.
It also makes it appear that there are double standards in terms of who is accused of crimes against humanity. I am yet to hear of any American or Briton who stands so accused, although there may be some deserving candidates. And why does America refuse to accept the International Criminal Court? Does it have something to hide?
The other factor is that an impartial observer might be tempted to say that life for Iraqis under Hussein—as bad as it may have been— was better than what it is under American occupation. After all, Iraq was a determinedly secular and egalitarian state where women and non-Muslims were treated reasonably well, notwithstanding brutality by the Ba’athists.
The clear winner is Iran, influencing the Iraqi Shia population directly; its allies have gained influence in Lebanon too. Iranian Shia influence is now much stronger among Arab states. If Hussein had been alive, he would have remained a rallying point for non-Shia Iraqis, and curtailed Iran’s influence. Surely, America doesn’t want Iran to be the powerbroker in West Asia.
We should also remember that Hussein was considered an American ally until fairly recently, and that America closed its eyes to his misdeeds for years. In fact, during the Iran-Iraq war, the United States openly supported Hussein and supplied him with arms. To then turn on a former ally, demonize him, hunt him down, and execute him: somehow this does not give the impression that the United States is a reliable ally for anybody. Indian enthusiasts for Indian-U.S. “natural alliances” should pay attention.
Legally, morally, and practically the hanging has been of dubious merit.
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Ahmedabad, India.