RUMINATIONS AT THE SCAFFOLD


09.01.07
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 Iraqi campaign.
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 judges.
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 visible.
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, democracy.
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.
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