Friday, December 29, 2006

The Execution of Saddam

The execution of Saddam Hussein, now expected tonight, should not occur until each and every charge against him has been heard and decided in a legitimate court of law.

With the U.S. handover of Saddam reportedly imminent, and Iraqi officials publicly differing on execution timing, the Associated Press reports that the U.S. Courts are now being asked to intervene:

Lawyers for Saddam Hussein on Friday made a last-minute appeal to an American court to avert execution in Iraq, asking a judge to block his transfer from U.S. custody to the hands of Iraqi officials.

Hussein's lawyers filed documents Friday afternoon asking for an emergency restraining order aimed at stopping the U.S. government from relinquishing custody of the condemned former Iraqi leader to Iraqi officials, a spokeswoman for a federal court in Washington D.C. said.

... The appeals court did not indicate when it would rule on the issue

I have always found the death penalty barbaric in all circumstances, including this one.

I will admit, however, that while I remain opposed to this execution, the implementation of the death penalty against an actual barbarian such as Saddam troubles me quite a bit less than is often the case.

What does acutely trouble me , however, is the obvious rush to the gallows.

Leaving aside all the irregularities regarding his trial, and the obvious issues surrounding hanging as a mode of execution, Saddam has to date been tried for but one set of his many atrocities, the 1982 killing of 143 Shiite civilians in the Iraqi village of Dujail.

These murders, however brutal, did not represent his most evil and premeditated crimes against Iraq and humanity.

In fact, even now, a second trial is ongoing with respect to charges that chemical weapons were used against Kurds during the "Anfal" campaigns in the 1980's. See this April 2006 report from Jurist Legal News and Research regarding the remaining charges:

The Iraqi High Criminal Court announced Tuesday that new genocide and crimes against humanity charges have been filed against Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] and six others in his former regime's crackdown against the Kurds during the 1980s.

The new charges were filed with a different judge than the one handling his current trial for the 1982 massacre of 148 Shiite villagers in Dujail.

According to Iraqi law, the second trial against Saddam may begin in as soon as 45 days. The charges stem from Saddam's role in Operation Anfal that culminated in a gas attack against Kurds in the village of Halabja, which killed 5,000 civilians including women and children. The current Operation Anfal charges, however, do not cover the Halabja attack.

Court spokesman Raid Juhi has said that there will be a separate trial on that attack. Reuters has more.

The Saddam Hussein Trial Blog has background on whether Operation Anfal constitutes genocide. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also said Tuesday that he expects Saddam to be tried in all the cases against him before the court reaches a final verdict. (emphasis added).

Authorities have said there could be up to a dozen proceedings against the former dictator and each case could result in a death sentence if the court finds him guilty.

In this context, I would like to address the too-often overlooked history of Saddam's brutality against the Jews of Iraq.
The Iraqi Jewish community, numbered at around 150,000 in 1948, was almost entirely driven out of the country by increasing persecution from the 1940s onwards. Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain.
Carole Basri, adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of a case study of the ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Jews, indicates that while the vast majority of Jews had fled Iraq by the mid-1960's, the persecution continued:
There was a rather gruesome public hanging in 1969,for example.

... Nine Jews were hung in the public square. Actually, Saddam Hussein was behind that hanging. In 1968 there was a coup by the Baathists, with al-Bakr, who is the uncle of Saddam Hussein, installed as president.

He tells Saddam to put together a security force that was similar to the Gestapo and to start the torture chambers. As the first group of victims he picks the Jews; they were the most defenseless. At this point, the Jews were not allowed to have telephones in their homes or offices, and they were not permitted to travel more than three-quarters of a mile from their home - there were 3,500 Jewish people left at that point, and this was after the 1967 Six Day War.

Yet in a community under that kind of repression they were charged with being American spies. So under this situation Saddam brought to trial nine Jews, who are hung in the public square. Now what this does for Saddam is it gives him a way to test out how much repression he can allow in the country and whether anyone will speak out.

He also hung a few other people, who were not Jewish. But there was an outcry after this incident, as well as after some hangings in August 1969 of Jews in Basra. After that, the Arab world said "We're looking barbaric to the world, we can't do this anymore." So then Saddam had his agents pull people who were Jewish off the streets and they were never seen again.
Among the missing and murdered were Daoud Zubaida, the late grandfather of my significant other, and many others whose legacies will forever live on in the hearts and memories of their families, now dispersed worldwide.
Executing Saddam before he has answered for all his crimes is a moral, legal and political outrage.

If this "process" is partially about healing and putting the past behind in troubled Iraq, this imminent execution is about to deprive most of his victims of the opportunity to voice the truth regarding the man responsible for the death, degradation and suffering of so many.

While I understand that trials of Saddam are expected to continue, even after his death in his absence, I doubt that many will be listening.

The rush to bury Saddam before his entire legacy of brutality is exposed will do little to bring about reconciliation and healing.
It will simply silence him - and his remaining, unheard victims, forever.

That is an offense to the memory and suffering of far too many.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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