Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Reverse Effects of Saddam’s Ignoble Death

Charles Krauthammer writes the best explanation I’ve seen as to why the botched execution of Saddam Hussein should be troubling--even as it is hard to lose sleep over any indignities Hussein suffered. Along these lines, Kathleen Parker writes a thought provoking article questioning our willingness to click on and view Saddam’s pathetic execution. It seems to have caused her to question the death penalty--not for its justice but for the effect it has on those who view it--which, now, apparently, is everyone.

For my part, I can’t get past the need for the death penalty for justice’s sake though I think there is a valid point to be found somewhere in Parker’s analysis. Internet executions are not a good development, it seems to me. And, like Krauthammer, I regret, very much, that more justice was not served in a proper trial and execution of Saddam Hussein and that his evil will never be more fully digested by the vast majority who tuned in to view his last moments. I confess to have viewed them myself and they were annoyingly anti-climatic and seedy. They seemed to have allowed him more pride than he deserved--their taunting was just as ignoble and in the service of something just as ignoble as Saddam. Too bad, but it seems these folks have--in this as in so many other things--shown themselves to be unfit (for now) for democracy.

Discussions - 31 Comments

Perhaps what makes the video so hard to watch (I sure haven’t viewed it) is that it’s a reminder that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent - it’s literally revenge killing. And revenge does not appeal to our better natures.

I would argue that the death penalty is not revenge, but rather justice. I don’t believe death penalty proponents, by and large, believe that it is payback for the murderer’s crimes, but rather simply what the deserve for their actions. It’s cause and effect.

When my four year old hits her big sister, she’s likely to get hit back. Cause and effect. When you murder someone, your life becomes forfeit. Cause and effect.

I support the death penalty because I believe it is a fitting effect. I don’t support it because I want to get back at the offender. Perhaps I would if someone close to me was murdered. That’s a bit different and probably understandable for those who have the misfortune to experience it.

What makes you so sure that there can’t be an aspect of revenge within the administration of justice. Eichmann was killed by Jews. Because there were Jews involved in the arrest, indictment, prosecution, sentence and execution of that bureaucratic murderer, did it cease to be justice. Don’t you think there were many Jews who relished administering the death penalty to Eichmann, and only wished they had their hands on more NAZIS so they could administer the same sentence.

Sometimes justice has an aspect of revenge. On earth justice is administered by men, not angels, not God. Men are governed by emotions, and the implementation of justice SHOULD awake within us a feeling of glee, a feeling of satisfaction, of grim approval. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if there were not such a evocation by the execution of such a monster, there would be something wrong with us. Men "without chests" are the types who are left limp, and numb before such a demonstration of justice.

Christ did not preach against capital punishment. He did not preach against the legitimate authority of the state. It’s really a weird spectacle to see a post-modern, cosmopolitan establishment bemoan the execution of a monster on the grounds of de-facto Christian sensibilities.

I have no problem with public executions. Citizens should constantly be reminded of the high price that must be paid by those who violate justice.

"You have heard that it was said, ’An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42, NIV)


"But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,"

"Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." (Luke 6:28-31. King James Version)

I believe, for what it’s worth, that killing someone to prove that killing is wrong doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is more logical to lock a killer away so that he cannot kill again.

Thanks for the passages, Marko; I was a little alarmed to see Christ tacitly supporting the death penalty in comment 3. J-Cri ain’t down with that, yo! However, justice and revenge sometimes being the same thing is a defensible position; distasteful but defensible.

Marko, the verses you referred to are directed towards the INDIVIDUAL, NOT the state. No where does Christ say that you shall establish states that do not properly punish monstrously evil behavior. We’re not talking about a man who knocked over a five-and-dime. We’re talking about a man who ordered the deaths of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people, GOD’S people, people made "in the image and the likeness."

Furthermore, there is an idea within your second verse selection that pacifism is ENJOINED upon the faithful. Not so. There Christ posits an ideal, for certain select followers, his clergy, but not for all his followers.

Give you a real world example. When the Eastern the Byzantine Empire collapsed, and Constantinople fell, there were few defenders who were actually Orthodox. A good chunk of the defenders of the Eastern Orthodox Church were members of the Latin West. Catholics stood on the walls, in fact the commander of the defenses was Italian, {might have been Spanish, it’s been a while since I read something about the sack of that city}. When the Byzantine Empire fell, there was widespread slaughter, rape and destruction. And over time, the Christians were either forced to flee or accept muslim servitude. Such an outcome is demonstrably immoral. So if the choice is fight, or accept apostasy by embracing islam, then the answer must be always to fight. Better to die fighting than worship false gods.

And Dan K., the point is not as you phrased it. We administer justice, severe justice to give witness to the fundamental, non-negotiable dignity of man, who was "formed in the image and the likeness." Your take that such a sentence doesn’t make sense is a modern conceit. It’s a modern fashion statement. I would suggest that you reassess your understanding, asking yourself why is that generations have deemed such a sentence not only just, but obligatory, mandatory, and that without such a sentence, justice was not performed. Just yesteryear, our forefathers led out to executions the NAZI monsters. They didn’t even hesitate to exterminate those who led millions to extermination. And no Church figure of any repute gainsaid their sentence. And now, after the cultural and moral confusion of the sixties, there exists a fundamental lack of confidence in the justice of the death sentence. Within a few decades, there will creep in a suspicion about the administration of justice itself. We’re witnessing cultural and moral dry-rot. That’s what’s influencing you. And we’ve all been infected with it. But islam, insulated from a spirit of self-critique harbours no lack of confidence. The very fact that our country and the West is taking this conversation seriously is only evidence of how great the cultural and moral decay truly is.

Moreover,

"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience." Romans 13:3-5 (NIV)

I believe rulers employ the sword as agents of God. The sword (and terror, and vengeance, I suppose) are His alone - but He has elected to delegate the use of both to the state. We, as individuals on our own behalf, do not enjoy that privilege.

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:33-35.

Dan, here is a list of other things Christ failed to comment on: he never endorsed hebrew diatary laws, he didn’t say gladitorial contests were cruel, he never weighed in on the conduct of Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest Christ would say yes, no, and no to those, based on what he did say.

Dan K., your point has been made before. The dietary laws were implicitly overruled when Christ said: "Behold, I make all things new...." And seconded when Peter had the dream about eating "unclean" food. Each time Peter refused what was unclean. But then Christ told him it was no longer unclean. This too led the Apostles to conclude that the Gospel message was for the whole world, and that there was no obligation to convert to Judaism before embracing Christianity. This issue also informs the discussion on the proper use of art in Christianity. Protestants rejected 1,500 hundred years worth of distilled wisdom upon the subject, and once more turned to the austerity of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic West held to the traditional interpretation.

Christ recognized the state, and recognized the authority latent to the state. The draft is such an authority, making war is such an authority, likewise taxation. Tradition has always so held, and I prefer the weight of tradition over the takes of those infected by post-modernism. The West has entered a world of post-Christianity, and any residual concern they have for human life is but a fashion statement, and won’t last very long. Take a look at those most hostile to the death penalty, the establishment and the left. Not people I would trust to make an accurate judgement on any moral issue. More problematic is the opinion of various Churches. Here too, we see weakened Churches looking for validation and respect from a media and establishment overflowing with hostility and scorn for them. Thus they haven’t the courage of their convictions. Look how rapidly the Vicar of Christ on earth backed away from his speech at Regensburg. What he said at Regensburg was accurate, in fact, he pulled his punches. Nonetheless, in the face of a hailstorm of politically correct criticism, he backed away. And hasn’t been heard to say anything worth-the-while of late.

But it is amazing how ALL OF US have been influenced by the loss of moral and cultural certitude since the ’60s. Remember that famous speech of Judge Learned Hand during the Second World War, where he said that his was a country that wasn’t sure it was in the right, or what was right. RIGHT THERE, was the beginning of this loss of confidence. Hand, educated, part of the establishment, was already infected. How could any rational man have questioned the right and who was in the right when confronted with the Axis powers. Hand’s attitude percolated through our Bar, especially through the judiciary and the Law Schools, and has now found itself reflected throughout our society. It should be noted too, that Judge Hand DENOUNCED the ENTIRE Nuremberg war trials, the very notion he rejected. He denounced it as "victor’s justice," which it was, but so what, it might have had the adjective of "victor’s," but it was nonetheless "justice" for all of that.

Saddam’s execution was botched in some respects. But the government was right to make it sooner, not later. Given the state of things in Iraq, who knows what might have happened to further delay, or completely prevent, the execution.

The fact that Saddam was executed, not merely sentenced to death, could be of real importance in improving things in Iraq. And it is justice. Anything less than death for Saddam would be a gross injustice. The fact that we and the Iraqis have actually gotten to see the hanging, even on an unofficial, poor-quality video, is salutary. No one has anything to be ashamed of here.

11, 12 -- Dan, excellent comments. Especially:

"those most hostile to the death penalty ... not people I would trust to make an accurate judgement on any moral issue." Amen.

The weakness of so many churches. Yes, a huge problem.

7: Another excellent comment. If Western, Christian states had followed Christ’s strictures against violence by individuals, there would have been no West. Muslim rulers and armies (Islam, for short) would have wiped it out, along with most of Christianity.

A state simply cannot be "Christian."
Individuals and societies are Christian, or partially or predominantly so. The state, ultimately, is the sword, and we need it.

"I confess to have viewed them myself and they were annoyingly anti-climatic and seedy."
Yes, I watched the leaked video of the full execution and it was very anti-climatic indeed. It seemed more like an impromptu lynching than a state execution to me.

And, as noted recently in the Scholar Blog, the effects of showing at least portions of the execution on television and the internet are detrimental both in Iraq and here at home.

I’m going to back off on the dietary laws comment... it was a shot in the dark. It’s been a long time since I read the bible. But I cannot believe that Christ would endorse pre-emptive war or public executions, and I’d remind you that his own public execution didn’t serve the Romans well at all.

But let’s get back to Hussein’s execution. I think it illustrates exactly why Bush Sr. didn’t take the guy out in ’92; as awful as he was, at least the country was contained and stable under him. Evil, but stable. Now it’s evil and a roiling civil war which is sucking away our resources.

Dan K., your last comment opens up many issues. Stability, the legitimate use of preemptive war, self-defense, capital punishment. I don’t know if you can still get a hold of it, but Michael Novack wrote a piece for National Review at the height of the Nuclear freeze movement. It’s titled MORAL CLARITY IN A NUCLEAR AGE. It was written in response to a pastoral letter of the American Catholic Bishops which prohibited ANY use of nuclear weapons, even for purposes of deterrence. It was a confused letter, it didn’t enjoin possession of nuclear weapons, but prohibited using them in any deterrent or military manner. Novack took them to task. He began with posing a scenario where millions of otherwise peaceful people become enslaved because of a hostile power’s threat of nuclear weaponry. He began by observing that such a conclusion, enslavement by threat of massive murder was profoundly immoral. From that point of departure he addressed many an issue that touches at least tangentially upon your points. I would suggest trying to read it, if you can find it over the Internet.

As for dietary restrictions, Christ mentioned that it was not what a man ate that made him unclean, rather it was what he said, what he did, thus what flowed from the inner recesses of his heart. That’s another point that tells against the maintenance of the dietary restrictions.

There is a somewhat cryptic line in the Gospels, where Christ said that "the Kingdom suffered violence...." The actual verse you’ll need to get from a Protestant, they’re keen on chapter and verse, but there you kind of get a sense that Christ understands that violence will occur, and despite the trials and torments that a man might endure in this world, that he is still capable of enjoying the peace of his Kingdom, the peace that flows from the Holy Spirit. We need to recall that the message of Christ is calculated to respond to everyone, be he a country rustic, be he a learned academician.

Ultimately when we confront God about our decisions on such matters, war, deterrence, preemption, we need to be able to say, in all honesty, that we strived for another way, that we looked for a good faith negotiating partner, that we did not strive for war, nor seek out war for purposes of national dominance. That our deliberations were serious and made in good faith. I believe that this country has more than met such criteria. We’ve tried to get along with islam, with the saudis, with the syrians, with Tehran. We’ve tried, and in that attempt we’ve put up with a good deal that we probably shouldn’t, but we did so because of our sincere efforts to preserve the peace. Now, such attempts are doomed to failure, and we are allowed, indeed, OBLIGATED to defend ourselves.

Once military measures are forced upon us, THEN we have the DUTY to avail ourselves of such measures in a manner that WILL ENSURE success.

Dan K., don’t worry about the dietary comment, I realized you threw that out there kind of as an example of what Christ didn’t specifically speak to. So I got the gist of the point you were making, which was that Christ didn’t speak to every single issue we would be dealing with today. Which is true. Which is why he wisely left us the Holy Spirit, which he told us would lead us to an understanding of the truth. But also he said, when he was asked what the people of the latter times should be aware of, he FIRST mentioned: "See that no one deceives you....." It’s very difficult to think clearly today. Arguments are made for the purpose of eroding confidence, much of the national discourse is deeply corrosive. It’s very sad. And all of us are impacted by it.

Look at the European elites, who have allowed in MILLIONS of muslims, and intend to allow in millions more. What were they thinking? They live in a world that doesn’t take religion seriously, and has lost any appreciation for how a religion, a cult, can inform a culture. And now all of a sudden they’re dealing with a culturally aggressive islam in their own home towns. And the people of Europe, none of whom wanted this, had this anti-democratic measure rammed down their throats, again, by an elite, by a ruling establishment whose confidence in and appreciation of Western values has been severely eviscerated.

I’ve read portions of Mark Steyn’s book, it deeply disturbing what’s happening over there, and also over here. Right now, in the United States, there are MORE saudi students here than there was on September 11th. GW never asked the American people if they wanted additional saudis present, or even if they wanted to allow those already present to remain. And of course the reason the American people wasn’t asked is that the establishment knew what answer they would get.

Dan - If we need to fight back islam, why not attack a country under Islamic rule? More importantly, have you considered that the lumping together of everyone in a single creed as dangerous is the first step of genocide? Do you not believe that there are moderate believers of Islam?

I’ve already conceded on the dietary laws thing.

Dan K., sure there are moderate muslims, although I wouldn’t say observant, I would probably use the term "lapsed." But when someone is lapsed, they can also become "unlapsed." Which we saw in the life of osama himself, and that of Atta. Ostensibly ordinary muslims, spoken well of by those who knew them, after hearing a few radical speeches, after reading a few radical tracts, undergo a profound transformation, and become monsters, oozing hate, darkness and mayhem.

When I speak of islam, that needs to be understood as distinguished from ordinary muslims. Every man is under the influence of the Natural Law, be he pagan, Jew, Christian, Hindu or Muslim.

So, when I see a moderate muslim, I’m more likely to attribute his "moderation" to him following the Natural Law, than I would be him following the dictates of islam. As for islam, I deem that Zawahiri, Osama, Atta, et al, WERE following orthodox islam. There version wasn’t marginal, wasn’t outlandish, wasn’t banned by the weight of muslim theological opinion. They’re not radical, they’re mainstream. And the Pentagon, which recently conducted a study to determine if they were radical or mainstream, concluded, unfortunately, that the jihadists ARE mainstream.

They’re living out islam.

So what we need to do, and I’m not sure it can be done, is sever jihad from islam.

We need to remember that the Japanese people had a religion that was supremacist. Which led them to projecting national power beyond their borders. They saw that as their divine destiny. Likewise Germany, which had a German romanticism which glorified Germany beyond a proper sphere in European affairs, which led them beyond the Catholic Church. Think of it, it was Germany that would not accept the legions of Rome, and that same Germany that would not long endure the authority of the Vatican, again in Rome. So Germany had a problem, and so did Japan.

But they don’t have that problem anymore, now do they?

There are some who have posited that islam is nothing but a contrived platform for the purpose of advancing Arab supremacism. I don’t know whether I agree with that. I do agree that islam is a patchwork of cobbled together heresies of the gnostic church. That I know. But whether there is something especially sinister in the Arab variant, I’m not sure. We do know that the Arabs are the ones causing us the most problems.

As for our military forces being better used against islamic religious states, I couldn’t agree more. I would have begun this war after 9/11 by going after the FOREMOST muslim sponsor of terror on earth, which was and is Tehran. The war would have begun with Tehran, would then have moved to Baghdad, and would have taken a little tour to Damascus. As for Afghanistan, I would have heeded the concerns of Afghanistan being the burial place of empires and armies, and would have only sent in special forces. BUT THE CONVENTIONAL WAR would have kicked off against Tehran. I would have sent our host on a grand tour of the Near East. And the Saudis, well, I would have had a little surprise for them, designed to impoverish them. My war wouldn’t have taken "decades," wouldn’t even have taken two to three years. But the lesson would have been sent.

The logical fallacy you fall prey to in post #21 is the same one that led to the creation of Mad Magazine.

In the early 50s a moral crusader named Frederic Wertham spotted an item in a survey that said that the majority of hardened criminals had read comic books as a kid. He wrote a book, called SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT in which he made the case for banning the racier comics, such as TALES FROM THE CRYPT and MAD. Public pressure made forced EC to stop publishing these comics, though Mad was instantly reborn in a conventional form.

Of course, most kids read comics and there is no real link between that and criminal behavior. But the cold war was just staring up and those were jittery times.

It’s a funny story. You’re using the same logic to justify killing off a people because they worship differently than you. That’s not so funny.

I must confess that I have no patience for these holier than thou comments about how the execution was not kosher.


First, the Iraqis suffered decades under that vicious tyrant, an experience no Westerner can fully understand. The execution needs to be viewed in that context.


Second, there is nothing wrong with open executions. In fact, this country used to conduct them, as did many other countries. If that process was good enough for the Founders of the country, it’s good enough for me. One can easily argue that open executions may deter potential criminals and demonstrate the power of the law.


Third, I don’t understand what Julie Ponzi meant about the lack of a "proper trial." Does she mean something like the US process where murderous thugs get to file endless appeals and many of them get to die while doing so thus escaping their punishment?

Who the hell is advocating "killing off a people?" Certainly not me. We did not "kill off" the German and Japanese people. If anybody is "killing off" the Japanese and the Germans, it’s the Japanese and the Germans themselves, because they’re not procreating, and falling below the replenishment demographic threshold. They’re the ones not having enough kids. The North did not embark on a policy of "killing off" the South to win the war. Sherman called for killing off those "200,000" who were responsible for the war, and the continuation of the war. We didn’t begin any policy of "killing off" the Japanese and the German. Rather our policy was one of hitting them so hard as to force them to come to their senses. Which they did, although only after much suffering. We might not be able to get away and avoid having to administer a similar tutorial to certain supremacist portions of islam. Such as the Arabs and the Persians. We might not be able to get away from that. WHICH IS WHY it’s so important that our democratization attempts in Iraq prove successful. If we can reform islam from within, without having to administer that tutorial, it would be far better for them and for us. But there is NO guarantee that our efforts will prove successful. Unfortunately, this administration has botched things badly, not because they went to war, but how they’ve conducted themselves thereafter. Moreover, IF THEY WERE ONLY going to hit two countries, then they picked the wrong two. Far better to have invaded Iran and Iraq, {maybe s. arabia...}. But that is water under the bridge.

Interesting...I agree with David Frisk.

Trials of War Crimes are absurd. War Crimes are ultimately fluid in their definition, based on criteria defined by the victor upon the defeated. It is a huge absurdity to assert that war crimes trials are "Fair" because legalistic, courtroom rules are imposed; outcomes are always known at the outset.
Surely the heads of Bomber Command would have been convicted of War Crimes had Germany prevailed in WWII and imposed its own War Crimes trials on the defeated.
So the Shias got revenge in Saddam’s execution, but the Kurds didn’t? Is that a legitimate beef?
That Saddam’s execution was a bad joke is only the conclusion of a process that was preposterous from its inception.

I have not watched the video...from the stills it seems more like a "snuff film" than a proper execution. Those of us who believe in the death penalty endorse it for a couple of reasons. First, it is justice, not revenge, and we must be careful to distinguish these two (related) things. Second, executions are atonement for past wrongs, and they give closure to the victims of those wrongs. My problem with Saddam’s execution is that the symbolism was botched. Such things need to be stiff and formal as a reminder that such executions are high ceremony...they are symbolic on many levels, and the State must be careful not to surrender its dignity...if it does, it loses the moral high ground. On those terms, Saddam’s execution was clearly botched.

Dain, don’t worry about viewing the video. It’s the biggest anti-climactic video I’ve ever seen. It’s not like you can see Saddam take the quick drop.

Tom T., Judge Learned Hand made much the same argument. Many of those that defend the Nuremberg war trials quietly concede the thrust of your objections, but go on to change the topic, by stating that the war trials were necessary so as to "establish the record" of the NAZI atrocities. It’s a classic bait and shift rhetorical gimmick. I too think the trials were an example of victor’s justice. NAZI leaders should have been led to the gallows without the demeaning spectacle of Western liberal powers sitting on tribunals with Bolshevik monsters. The presence of the Soviets, who killed more people than the NAZIS, made the entire thing a farce. But liberals cooed with flattering self-righteousness, and so the trials have entered the public consciousness as this wondrous example of untainted justice.

THE record could have been established by tasking Hollywood to go out there and record everything, along with the National Archives. We didn’t the fraud of the trials to properly record the evil, satanic deeds of the NAZI regime.

The purpose of the trials was to assuage liberal guilt in the United States and Great Britain over the massive civilian casualties inflicted by strategic bombing.

Joghn Moser - That is overly blunt and post hoc. The trials may have had the effect you suggest, but not that intent. The war had, after all, seen horrifying military operations all around. The death camps were something else, a different kind of horror. Your remark seems a bit revisionist to me.

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