|RUMINATIONS AT THE SCAFFOLD
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov)
The execution of Saddam Hussein on December 30 soured the holiday mood; it
is difficult to forget the scaffold, the hangmen’s masks, the noose, and
the eyes of the condemned. The image is not frightening, since television
has inured us to such things, but loathsome.
Capital punishment is an abominable thing, and Hussein’s death is vivid
proof of this. By killing him, the government of Iraq and U.S. President
George Bush have sentenced hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people
to death in explosions set off by outraged Sunnis.
Saddam Hussein is a criminal, but nobody can rightly be punished unless
sentenced by a court. His trial turned out to be a trap for the
prosecutors. In fact, the idea was doomed to failure from the very
beginning, because no court can be independent in a country occupied by
foreign troops. Nobody expected a fair sentence because the outcome was
predetermined, lawyers were warned off, and the court discussed only one
of Hussein’s numerous crimes.
And lastly, he was executed shortly before Bush’s January statement on
Iraq. The White House needed at least one “victory” in its disastrous
As the Hague Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia showed, lawyers usually
flunk when they put politicians on trial. Trying to repeat the Nuremberg
Trials of the Nazi criminals again and again, the prosecutors lose their
cases even though they seem to hold all the aces. Slobodan Milosevic
outplayed Carla del Ponte, and Saddam Hussein has defeated the Baghdad
One look at the scaffold and jeering hangmen, and at Saddam Hussein, who
acted honorably to the very last, proves that the prosecution also
suffered a moral failure. The dictator seemed to have become wiser during
his detention, whereas his political opponents, apparently intoxicated by
revenge, have degenerated into sadism.
Some may say that the picture I have drawn here is a faÚade hiding the
truth. But politics and modern political techniques are mostly the art of
The Americans think that they have snatched the banner from their
opponents by killing Hussein. But Sunnis are now carrying portraits of
their new martyr and demanding revenge. According to Amnesty
International, the new Iraqi leaders have missed a historic chance to
break the gruesome chain of death sentences in their country. In other
words, the court in a purportedly democratic Iraq turned out to be as
merciless as the courts in an Iraq ruled by a dictator.
The White House has routinely ignored the opinion of international human
rights organizations, which denounced the execution of Hussein, as well as
the views of European leaders. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair,
Bush’s closest European ally, had to admit – though after a long delay
and through his press service – that Hussein’s execution was
deplorable and the manner in which it was done was “completely wrong.”
There is a big difference between deploring capital punishment and the
manner of its execution. Did Blair mean that the execution would have been
less “deplorable” if the Americans had searched their Iraqi henchmen
and taken away the mobile phones that were used to film the execution?
As I see it, this is one more example of the importance of the visible
parts of politics.
The next U.S. administration will have to work very hard to restore
understanding between Washington and Europe, since the European allies are
becoming divided over the interpretation of the most fundamental notion,
Of all the European governments, only the Polish leadership wholeheartedly
supported the execution of the Iraqi dictator. No wonder that its lonely
voice was heard very well. The Vatican, which Poles usually look up to,
has denounced the execution, but the Polish government has decided that it
would stand to gain by demonstrating its loyalty to Washington.
How long will Warsaw continue to act as Bush’s “fifth column” in the
European Union? And what would Lech Kaczynski, the president of a Catholic
Poland, have said about Hussein’s execution if his compatriot, Karol
Jozef Wojtyla, known as John Paul II since his October 1978 election to
the papacy, had not died?
Initially, Ban Ki-moon, the new UN Secretary-General, remained indifferent
to the execution of Saddam Hussein. But his press department soon sensed
that something was wrong and issued a statement. Ban later urged the
government of Iraq “to grant a stay of execution to those whose death
sentences may be carried out in the near future,” but this has done
little to improve the bitter aftertaste.
It appears that we will have a “chilled” UN Secretary-General, which
is a pity. Keeping one’s cool is a good thing for a diplomat of his
rank, but a bit of empathy wouldn’t go amiss either.