January 1, 2007 - Saddam Hussein is dead. That fact is surprising only in that the event did not follow the discovery of his spider hole more closely. His execution was ordained from the moment that he was hauled into the sunlight. Only the most naïve among us can believe that the Special Tribunal cobbled together for the chaotic grotesquery that was the foreordained trial had not been charged with delivering Saddam Hussein to the gallows. From the time of the “decapitation” strike that opened the war the dictator’s death was a prime objective. If the Texas Ranger-in-Chief could not bring Osama Bin Laden in dead or alive he would settle for Saddam Hussein dead. Killing him in combat was preferable to taking him alive. Were America to capture the villain then she would be bound by her archaic principles to provide him with a semblance of due process. The six month long show trial was the result. To suggest that the proceeding we saw played out in television installments was “due process” does violence to the concept as Anglo-American jurisprudence understands the term.
Of what was Saddam convicted? The death of 148 men and boys was the core of the offense. They had been tried, convicted, and condemned by an Iraqi court acting at Saddam’s order. They were convicted of conspiring to assassinate the President of Iraq. Perhaps their crime was in having failed. Like Saddam they were given the ceremonial process of Iraqi Law. The form, if not the substance, was observed. Like Saddam the outcome and their fate was pre-ordained. That was the crime against humanity for which Saddam was condemned. That was the crime for which Saddam paid the wages of sin.
There were more crimes to be sure; more terrible and heinous acts; more worthy to be called “crimes against humanity”. The slaughter of the Kurds at his order; his aggressive war against Iran – the Persians he cursed in the last seconds of his life. His use of poison gas against the Persians and against the Kurds. All of those might have been tried had there not been an unseemly rush to the gallows. As it is the hangman’s rope has robbed humanity of justice in those instances. It has also protected the world against knowledge of those great powers who were complicit in those crimes against humanity for which he was not condemned.
One lesson that we might take from all of this is that a head of state is not immunized from the rule of law by the distance between his desk and the commission of atrocities in obedience to his order. We might take that lesson except it is too general and would apply too broadly. There is an insulating distance between 10 Downing Street and Basra; between 1600 Pennsylvania and Baghdad that we can’t afford to shorten. The only lesson we can take is this; the winner makes the law and the loser the price.
But in the final analysis has there been a winner and a loser in this battle or has everybody lost? Yes, George is very much alive and Saddam is surely dead. By all accounts Saddam walked to his fate proud and defiant; proclaiming the justness of his cause and the power of his faith. At his burial a young man is said to have thrown himself on the austere wooden casket and shouted, “Saddam is not dead. I hear him speaking to me.” Of such events are legends made.
How many Iraqis will listen to the voice of the martyr and join the growing rebellion? How many Sunni Arabs from across the Mid East will make pilgrimage to the new martyr’s shrine and vow to defend their Faith against infidel intruders and Persian interlopers? This episode has given the Rebels that which they lacked. They now have a unifying symbol around which the divergent elements of insurgency can rally and a shrine at which they can renew their conviction that their cause is just and favored by God. Who will pay the wages of sin? As always it will be the innocent and the American GI.