“Am I the only one who thinks Saddam’s execution is just horrible?” I asked at New Year’s Eve dinner last night. I don’t know why I make such comments without considering the context, when it’s likely I am indeed the only one there who thinks that, and when the focus is eating sashimi and celebrating.
I’m a staunch opponent of capital punishment, no exceptions for anyone or any circumstance. It’s more costly than life in prison, there’s no way to prove for certain in every case that someone is guilty, but there is no excuse for taking one’s life in exchange for another. If as a civilized nation we agree that murder is wrong, we cannot logically or morally take part in it ourselves. The trouble is we rationalize capital punishment as an act of anti-murder.
But isn’t Saddam’s execution, complete with available moving and still photos, simply a sugar-coated revenge killing?
Of course I realize that Saddam was a dictator with a penchant for repression, torture, murder, and invasion; there are many examples to which one can point. In 1980, acting on fears about the influence of Iran’s leadership on his country, he ordered the invasion of Iran and thus began the 8-year Iran-Iraq war. Ten years later, after accusing Kuwait of several baseless charges, Saddam invaded the country.
The United States is no stranger to invading countries, to making baseless charges in advance of an unjustified case for war, or to acting on its fears of other nations’ leadership. If these reasons are at all used to justify Saddam’s execution, this logic seems to beg the question, Shouldn’t our country, then, be invaded—our leader captured, tried, and hanged?
It may not have appeared that the United States hung Saddam in his coat a few days ago. But wasn’t it? We accused him of false crimes, invaded his country, captured him and brought him to stand trial, and who knows what else happened behind the scenes. And though the world, it seemed, cried out for his punishment, and he deserved to be punished (of this I believe most would agree) how many actually know his crimes—for which presumably, he was executed?
It seems to me that Saddam’s execution, just as Raskolnikov’s ultimate punishment, may have actually been a respite from the psychological stress of avoiding it, rather than a fitting punishment for his brutality. It seems to me more gleeful and swift retribution, quickly erasing this man and his ties to our government and the war that W stubbornly defends, than somber justice. For, too many take joy in his end, delight in the killing even as they decry those he perpetrated. Too many U.S. Army-types cry out with ecstasy: We got him! We got him! as if they have won part three of a war game and now expect a trophy.
Forgive me for feeling sickened and saddened that 2006 ended with images of the accelerated carrying out of a death sentence, of a noose being slipped over the neck of what was once a nation’s leader, of blood on the cheek of man who was once someone’s little newborn boy. We ended 2006 revealing our lack of humanity.
If we do not, at the core, value humanity, how can we expect citizens of our country, of the globe, to honor it as well?