Friday, December 29, 2006

Execution of Saddam Appears Imminent

Speculation is growing over when the Iraqi government will hang Saddam Hussein as punishment for the 1982 killing of 148 Shiites in the city of Dujail. It has been confirmed that the US has handed over the former dictator to Iraqi authorities and his lawyers said they had been asked to dispose of Saddam Hussein's personal effects, raising concern that his execution could take place as early as tomorrow. An Iraqi Justice Ministry official, however, said there would be no execution before January 26, adding that "It's none of the Americans' business to decide when" they hang him.

Some human rights groups are renewing their criticism of the trial that condemned Saddam and urging Iraq to reconsider its insistence on carrying out the execution. Amnesty International, for instance, condemned the Iraqi Appeals Court's decision to confirm the death sentence and said the court should have ordered a re-trial.

"The trial of Saddam Hussein and his seven co-accused before the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) was deeply flawed and unfair, due to political interference which undermined the independence of the court and other serious failings," sad Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program. Amnesty emphasized its general opposition to the death penalty and renewed its call for the appeals court to order a new trial. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, however, said that there would be no delay in carrying out the sentence, and asserted that "No one can oppose the decision to execute the criminal Saddam."

"Those who reject the execution of Saddam," he said, "are undermining the dignity of Iraq's martyrs."

But there is actually serious concern over the fairness of Saddam's trial and the wisdom of carrying out the exection, particularly with the likelihood that it could spark another surge in violence in Iraq. Other concerns are based in fundamental opposition to the death penalty, which much of the world considers barbaric.

Human Rights Watch is one of the strongest critics of Saddam's trial and his sentence. On Wednesday, HRW implored Iraq "not [to] implement the death sentence against Saddam Hussein, which was imposed after a deeply flawed trial for crimes against humanity." The group is calling for an appeals chamber to review the verdict.

“Imposing the death penalty, indefensible in any case, is especially wrong after such unfair proceedings,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “That a judicial decision was first announced by Iraq’s national security advisor underlines the political interference that marred Saddam Hussein’s trial.”


A report issued in November 2006 by Human Rights Watch, which has demanded the prosecution of Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants for more than a decade, identified numerous serious flaws in the trial of Hussein for the Dujail executions. The 97-page report, “Judging Dujail: The First Trial Before the Iraqi High Tribunal,” was based on 10 months of observation and dozens of interviews with judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers.

The report found that the Iraqi High Tribunal was undermined from the outset by Iraqi government actions that threatened the independence and perceived impartiality of the court. It disclosed serious flaws in the trial, including regular failures to disclose key evidence, violations of the defendants’ right to confront witnesses, and lapses of judicial demeanor.

Human Rights Watch has speculated that Saddam was denied a fair trial in an international setting partially because that could have allowed him to bring out evidence that he was being supported by the U.S. at the time of his alleged crimes. It could have proved highly embarrassing to the U.S. if it came out during the trial that current members of the Bush administration were providing Saddam with material and diplomatic support with full knowledge of his crimes against Shiites and Kurds.

Other criticism of the pending execution has come from international bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, yesterday called for restraint by Iraqi authorities, echoing HRW's concerns about the fairness of the original trial.

"The appeal judgment is a lengthy and complex decision that requires careful study," she said. "There were a number of concerns as to the fairness of the original trial, and there needs to be assurance that these issues have been comprehensively addressed. I call, therefore, on the Iraqi authorities not to act precipitately in seeking to execute the sentence in these cases."

For his part, Saddam claimed to be ready to die, offering to sacrifice himself as a martyr.

"I sacrifice myself. If God wills it, he will place me among the true men and martyrs. O faithful people, I bid you farewell as my soul goes to God the compassionate. Long live Iraq. Long Live Iraq. Long live Palestine. Long live jihad and the Mujahidin. God is great."

Saddam's supporters have vowed retaliation if the execution goes forward, warning that they would target U.S. interests anywhere in the world. In an internet posting, the Baath Party stated,

"The Baath and the resistance are determined to retaliate, with all means and everywhere, to harm America and its interests if it commits this crime. The American Administration will be held responsible for any harm inflicted on the president because the United States is the decision-maker (in Iraq) and not the puppet Iraqi government."

Whether or not the Baathists are able to strike U.S. interests outside of Iraq, it should be expected that at least within the war-torn country, Saddam's execution will lead to a spike in violence against U.S. troops as well as increase the sectarian strife among Sunnis and Shiites. This would follow the general pattern of Iraqi violence, as has been seen ever time a major development occurs such as the killing of Saddam's sons, Iraqi elections or Saddam's own capture in December 2003.

With the hellish existence that Iraqis are currently experiencing, it shouldn't be surprising either if the execution sparks a sense of nostaligia in Iraq for the relative stability the country enjoyed before the U.S. invaded. While Saddam had a horrendous human rights record, and unnecessarily put his country through a couple of costly wars, first against Iran and then against the U.S., Iraq under his rule was relatively prosperous and stable, and his government provided generous social welfare programs.

Many observers have been saying for some time that Iraq was better off under Saddam, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Earlier this month Annan said that Iraq was in the grips of a civil war and many people in society were worse off now than under Saddam Hussein.

"When we had the strife in Lebanon and other places," he said, "we called that a civil war -- this is much worse." He agreed with those who say that things were generally better under Saddam.

"I think they are right in the sense of the average Iraqi's life... If I were an average Iraqi obviously I would make the same comparison -- that they had a dictator who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, 'Am I going to see my child again? And the Iraqi government has not been able to bring the violence under control."

The Iraqi blogger Riverbend states in her year-end post that "2006 has been, decidedly, the worst year yet."

The magnitude of this war and occupation is only now hitting the country full force. It's like having a big piece of hard, dry earth you are determined to break apart. You drive in the first stake in the form of an infrastructure damaged with missiles and the newest in arms technology, the first cracks begin to form. Several smaller stakes come in the form of politicians like Chalabi, Al Hakim, Talbani, Pachachi, Allawi and Maliki. The cracks slowly begin to multiply and stretch across the once solid piece of earth, reaching out towards its edges like so many skeletal hands. And you apply pressure. You surround it from all sides and push and pull. Slowly, but surely, it begins coming apart- a chip here, a chunk there.

That is Iraq right now. The Americans have done a fine job of working to break it apart. This last year has nearly everyone convinced that that was the plan right from the start. There were too many blunders for them to actually have been, simply, blunders. The 'mistakes' were too catastrophic. The people the Bush administration chose to support and promote were openly and publicly terrible- from the conman and embezzler Chalabi, to the terrorist Jaffari, to the militia man Maliki. The decisions, like disbanding the Iraqi army, abolishing the original constitution, and allowing militias to take over Iraqi security were too damaging to be anything but intentional.

She goes on to ask, "Why make things worse by insisting on Saddam's execution now? Who gains if they hang Saddam?"

With the painful reality of life in Iraq today, there must be some intensely mixed emotions among nearly all Iraqis to see their former president put to death. Beyond questions of his trial's fairness and the morality of the death penalty, the execution of Saddam is sure to unleash a variety of emotional responses, from joy to sadness to anger to rage, and in a place as volatile and divided as Iraq already is, this could be extremely dangerous. The execution might even establish Saddam Hussein as a martyr, which perhaps is exactly what the Sunni insurgency wants.

In terms of world opinion, the execution could also backfire against the United States. Not only is much of the world opposed to the death penalty on moral grounds, but most of it is also opposed to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, which according to the Lancet, has led to 655,000 Iraqi deaths. The inconsistency and disproportionality of executing the Iraqi leader for killing 148 Shiites while President George Bush remains free might be too much for people to handle.

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