Monday, January 01, 2007

No monsters, only men

When Saddam Hussein was executed, people were quick to look at his last moments as a sign of a broken man. It was too quick a judgement. When the video filmed on a mobile phone was released, it showed that despite attempts to send him to the gallows in disgrace, he died with dignity. His big gob rattled on until the very end. Some translations have him saying, "Do you consider this bravery?" and other translations, "Do you consider this manly behaviour?" He was asking his tormentors whether they were being macho in their behaviour by kicking a man as he was about to literally fall through the trapdoor.

Saddam Hussein was a brute, in every sense of the word. A man who could never be forgiven for his actions. He was a butcher, a butcher of men, hands stained with the blood of millions. But he was a man no less. The Observer's Peter Beaumont has written a painfully balanced take on his life. Was Saddam a monster? No, he was a man. He was capable of compassion, capable of empathy.

The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch has an interview with Robert Ellis who looked after Saddam for two years while the former dictator was in US custody. In his last years, he watered weeds, members of the plant kingdom that everyone hates. He saved his own food to feed birds. And when Ellis was leaving, he called him "brother". These are not the things we automatically associate with madmen - rather this was a man devoid of the burden of plotting wars, or plotting genocidal campaigns. This was a farm boy from Al-Awja, Tikrit, unsulllied by some of the apocalyptic horsemen who torment the city. Here was a simple man.

But whenever a state executes a man, he's stripped of redeeming features. For if heaven forbid, he's portrayed as a man, it might a bit more difficult to kill him. Such people have to be dehumanised. He has got to be the only person in the world who isn't refered to as Mister. Perhaps it's because he wasn't a military man like Pinochet, but the reasons appear to be long and complicated.

On the night he was executed, a group of us had a debate about capital punishment. I am against it. Not because I believe the worst of humankind should be spared the indignity of state execution, but for our own dignity. We, the judge, jury, and executioner. We are the ones who need to preserve our own nobility by not killing people. What has killing Saddam gained the world? One less mouth to feed maybe, but other than that - nothing. Is it ever possible for capital punishment to be seen as anything loftier than state sanctioned revenge? I think not. When we were growing up, most of our parents told us not to hit back. Turn the other cheek. Revenge is for the Lord. But even one of the mot theocratic governments in the world, the US government, is in favour of the death penalty.

It's 2007, but it might as well be Middle Ages. Firing Squad, Hanging, Lethal Injection, Electric Chair, Guillotine. What's the difference?


Nilla said...

Nice write up!

I'm not in support of capital punishment simply doesn't solve anything and also you have those few that are wrongly convicted (not that Saddam was innoncent though).

Anonymous said...

I try to steer away from writing anything politics, but I'm glad you cleared some things up.

I'd been wondering at the conflicting reports.

When someone refuses to be blindfolded before being hanged, says 'God damn you' to someone who told him 'God damn you' and still finds the time to say a prayer which he was denied finishing...

Yet reports came that he was 'broken.'

The US hasn't really achieved anything short of making Saddam a martyr.

Zaynnah Magazine said...

I'm also against capital punishment. The pictures of Saddam at the gallows on Saturday just made me feel sick. Saddam was indeed a brute, but as you say, he was also a man; a man who has now been martyred by his executioners.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm .... i have mixed emotions about this ? Should he have been hanged ?? Couldn't he just have been sent to prison for a life sentence ??

I guess they wanted to put an end to the vendetta behind the man eh? and what other way than to take his life. Life, life

God help us though


Wordsbody said...

Thanks for this post. I posted on my blog on the morning I woke up to news that Saddam had been hanged. I was sure when I slept the night before that he would be confirmed dead by morning. And it was with a heavy heart that I switched to the news on that day.

Even before the mobile phone footage, even before the warm recollections of his nurse, I already arrived at the conclusion that the hanging of Saddam was an act of brutality by those who claim to hold the monopoly on civilised values.

I avoided doing a long post because, where would I have started?

What I know is this: Saddam's defiance in the courtroom was a magnificent 'Damn You' to the kangaroo court. They actually did him a favour in that show trial, because he cut quite a dash in the suit. He hadn't looked better in years, if you ask me.

When i saw British newspapers saying: "Killed by his own people", I had to snigger loudly. I couldnt believe the denial.

Bottom line: the killing of Saddam during a Moslem holy month was a terrible insult, highly insensitive.

He was killed when he was killed because Goerge Bush wanted to it to be out of the way before the funeral of Former President Ford, plus Dubya wanted to outline a new 'vision' for Iraq in a new year on a clean slate.

To tell us that some puppet 'sovereign' government did what it wanted and not what the puppet masters desired, is laughable.

And yes, I was blown away by the dignity and manliness of Saddam refusing the hood, saying: there's no need for that. How brave.

I didn't believe the Iraqi 'official' who called him "a broken man" one little bit. It so clearly contradicted what we could see for ourselves. No wonder Saddam's daughters were proud.

The image of Saddam on the gallows went some way to redeem the disgrace of his appearance when he was captured.

All in all, I was appalled at even the 'officially sanctioned' images from the gallows. There was something inhumane about my having had to watch him go to his death.

When I read a blog where someone practically whooped at the hanging like it was the most exciting thing ever, I was saddened for that blogger.

Let me say this: many times Nigerian activists and writers have written in the past about the savagery of public executions of robbers and coup plotters at Lagos Bar Beach. Some have even gone into exile on account of such, saying they have no wish to be part of a society where such happens. And here we are in the 'free' West, and we were all being invited to feast on images of a Dead Saddam. Note the irony.

People have a choice, they can either swallow the 'propaganda' or 'spin' of the West wholesale - or they can think for themselves, and decide what is right or wrong - or the degrees in-between.

A crime against humanity is tried at the Hague, not in a shambolic court in Iraq, where nothing works presently. And where Western Leaders make 'surprise visits' to at will like it was some kind of protectorate (which in fact it is).

Many are parading as World Leaders today who have caused greater deaths than Saddam. We know them.

Milosevic and Pinochet were not hanged.

May God forgive them all. And may Allah have mercy on Saddam.

Yes, he was a man above all things.

Unknown said...

Need I say I completely disagree?

Saddam died. Period.

I only wish he had died the same way any one of those thousands of Kurds did, let's see how dignified that would have been.


Quest said...

For once I actually agree with Fred. I am against capital punishment in theory. And I don't think his death has actually solved major problems. He shouldn't have been hanged, and it should have happened behind closed doors. Yet...I just can't feel sorry for him..I feel more sorry for the people who had to live under his dictatorship. I'm not interested in praising his "courage" or his compassion towards weeds.

Anonymous said...


I edit the Human Rights Video page at Global Voices Online - - and I quoted this post in my latest post about Saddam. Feel free to drop by and comment...