— Nouri al-Maliki, president of Iraq
Well, it looks like they're determined to kill Saddam Hussein. Which is no surprise, and I won't be shedding any tears for him, other than on the general principle that the death penalty is always wrong, no matter who is on the receiving end of it. But leaving aside the sentence, the whole business raises certain unpalatable issues ...
That Saddam himself handed out many death warrants (and on occasion executed the victims himself) is well-documented; he was not remotely an innocent. He richly deserved to be hauled up in court to account for his crimes. And yet, we learned that his appeal against the sentence had been denied, from the politicians, before the judges handed down their decision. And when an earlier judge appeared to be trying to give him a real trial, defense and all, the judge was sacked and replaced by a political stooge. And several defense lawyers were murdered or forced to withdraw after threats to their family.
I shouldn't have to say "this really, really stinks". I don't want to be backed into the corner of seeming to defend an odious tyrant in his final extremity. But evil acts do not demand restitution by the commission of more evil acts, and dressing this one up in the garb of "respect for human rights" merely serves to make a travesty of human rights. Hanging Saddam won't bring even one of his victims back from the grave: all it'll do is turn him into a martyr to Iraqi nationalism, a dubious honour that will result in more blood being shed in his name down the months and years and decades to come. Saddam deserved just one thing — a fair trial (and one in which the true record of his crimes would be scrutinized impartially and made public, so that no future revisionist might claim him to be a hard-done-by innocent). The judgment of history will plainly be that he didn't get a fair trial ... and the fact that he was denied one speaks volumes about the circumstances under which he was prosecuted and the people who presided over the entire charade.
If they couldn't give him a fair trial at home, then they should have handed him over to the International Criminal Court in Brussels, who know how to deal with dictators and genocides. That they didn't is indicative of the low esteem in which the new government of Iraq holds the rule of law. And it suggests that the substance behind all that high-spoken guff about invading Iraq to restore freedom and democracy — the stuff the sabre-rattlers fell back on when the lies about weapons of mass destruction and an Al Qaida link-up turned out to be hollow — is just so much festering corruption.
"Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him". Nouri al-Maliki, I doff my hat to you — you've just invented an oxymoron to stand beside "we had to destroy the village in order to liberate it" as an exemplar of moral corruption and folly.
And I expect it's a statement that will come back to haunt you.