Iraq

How About 'Please Go to Hell'?

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I do and don't understand the dismay at the behavior of witnesses to Saddam Hussein's hanging. On the one hand, it's a sad commentary on the state of Iraq's security forces that the government was unable to find a few guards disciplined enough to keep their mouths shut during the execution instead of shouting "Go to hell!" and chanting "Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!" (One of the guards reportedly has been arrested, not for his disorderly conduct but for recording the scene on his cell phone.) On the other hand, I'm a little puzzled by the expectation that one really should be polite to a gentleman one is about to kill. A prosecutor who was present at the hanging implored Saddam's hecklers, "'Please, no. The man is about to be executed.'" Well, yeah. He's being executed because he's a savage mass murderer. Does suggesting his ultimate destination go too far, rendering his punishment excessive?

No, the taunts bother people because they're undignified and emotional, revealing too much about the true nature of the event, which is a dressed-up, cold-blooded version of vengeance, prescribed and limited by law. They bother people for the same reason we don't have public executions anymore, with crowds gathering to jeer and cheer after a nice picnic lunch. But what is the right way to kill a man who deserves to be killed? Calmly, professionally, and rationally, or angrily and triumphantly, while shouting "die, motherfucker, die"? 

NEXT: Have You Seen The Size of That Taint?

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  1. The problem is that, instead of being executed by a dispassionate state for crimes proven in an objective court of law, Saddam Hussein was executed by monkey-howling Shiites out for blood-thirsty revenge. If the state is going to have any legitimacy in killing people, it can’t be a glorified lynching.

  2. I’m offended that Hell is just assumed to be somewhere you don’t want to go! I’m dismayed by whoever is dismayed by Saddam’s treatment! Why are they assuming that it was negative?

    Anyway, I’ve wondered the same thing. Isn’t execution a lot more offensive to Saddam than verbal assault?

  3. I heard a story once told by John Gotti’s attorney. When the judge sentenced Gotti to like five life sentences for whatever reason the sentence included a “$50 special assesment fee” whatever that is. As Gotti is in the holding cell afterwards taking off his tie talking to his lawyer he says “they really know how to hurt a guy with that $50 assesment fee.”

    This is kind of the same thing. Somehow, I don’t think being yelled at was particularly high on Saddam’s list of problems at that moment.

    Lamar, Saddam’s trial was every bit as well conducted and fair as the Nuremberg trials. Was Geohering the victim of a “glorified lynching”?

  4. “No, the taints bother people because they’re undignified and emotional, revealing too much about the true nature of the event,…”

    wait. nevermind.

    (or think Sideshow Bob: “it’s actually German. Die Motherfucker. Die.”)
    Source is the Danish “Ekstrabladet”
    ekstrabladet.dk/nyheder/
    (you can see the pic there. Click on that story and look to the right side of the screen for “Se ogs?”, where the pics and vids are.

    Picture

    Another Pic

    More pic

    Alleged video 1

    Another video, apparently

  5. Hitchens has a good piece over in slate on this. Talks about the al-Sadr appeasment factor, how that outweighs any need to carry it off in an orderly, dispassionate fashion.

    come on, Jacob, doesnt it feel a little skeevy to have America part of that, even if it is indirect? We ought not be stoking passionate feelings of revenge, coupled with seemingly American compliant state sponsored killings over there, no?

  6. First of all, zero-sip-nada of the objection has to do with Saddam Hussein’s hurt feelings. No doubt, the people who have spent the last five years proclaiming everyone but themselves to be pro-Saddam will be claiming otherwise, but hopefully, we’re beyond paying any attention to them.

    It is the thin line between an execution and a lynching that makes it so important for the proceedings to be surrounded by decorum and ceremony. In Iraq, anarchy and sectarian domination are ever-present threats, and we’re being asked to sacrificice a few thousand more of our neighbors for this government, to keep them from coming to the fore.

    And how does the government behave? Like a bunch of Mahdi Army thugs holding a lynching, mocking the condemned and changing al-Sadr’s name. You know why they did that? Pehaps because they’re a bunch of Mahdi Army thugs holding a lynching.

    This episode was going to demonstrate that it was worth it to toss 3000 of our soldiers, a few hundred thousand Iraqis, and a trillion dollars of our money into this pit, by giving us the big payoff. Instead, by demonstrating exactly what we have brought into existence, it did exactly the opposite.

  7. Saddam’s trial was every bit as well conducted and fair as the Nuremberg trials.

    HUH?! Saddam’s trial was a total farce. Now along with his execution, is served nothing more than to demonstrate the people in charge are just like the ones they replaced.

  8. For me, the disturbing aspect is simply this: An event that is supposedly under tight control, and yet at least a few of the people in the audience are openly loyal to a militia leader. That doesn’t bode well…

  9. The media are really playing down the “Muqtada” chanting angle. They talk about “taunting” Hussein, as if they were telling Yo Momma jokes. I guess that makes it easier to frame the objections as precious and aesthetic, and downplaying the fact that the behavior of the executioners reveals a problem that goes right to the heart of the catastrophe we wrought.

  10. John,

    I don’t give a flip about Saddam. The problem I have with the hooting and howling at the execution is that it shows that the Iraqi state is more interested in vengeance than moving forward. I also think that, just maybe, we don’t know enough to compare Saddam’s trial and the Nuremburg Trials. Oh, I’d like to think they were one and the same, but It’d probably be wishful thinking. How many Nuremburg judges were murdered? How many were Jewish for that matter? Did you know that Churchill opposed the executions while Stalin wanted to kill all German soldiers? Did you know that Judge Nitikchenko took part in many sham trials (i.e., glorified lynchings)?

    From wiki: US Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone called the Nuremberg trials a fraud. “[Chief US prosecutor] Jackson is away conducting his high-grade lynching party in Nuremberg,” he wrote. “I don’t mind what he does to the Nazis, but I hate to see the pretense that he is running a court and proceeding according to common law. This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas.” [‘Harlan Fiske Stone: Pillar of the Law’, Alpheus T. Mason, (New York: Viking, 1956)]

  11. joe,
    You are the manifestation of evil with regards to domestic issues. But on Iraq, you are dead nuts.

    Jacob,
    Pretty please, with sugar on top. Stay out of the Mid-East.

  12. Lamar,

    The Nuremburg trials were not gold plated by any measure. That is percisly my point. The fact is that in some situations you are not going to get a gold plated trial. The Saddam trial was run about as well as it could be run considering the circumstances. Yeah, the Shiites wanted to kill him, just like the Soviets, who had lost 20 million people in the war, wanted revenge. Further, how long do you think the Soviet judges at Nuremburg would have lived under Stalin if they had not come back with convictions and death sentences? Did the Nazis get a fair hearing from the Soviet judges? Of course not. Did it matter? No because the Nazis were guilty as hell and got what they deserve. The same is true of Saddam and his Shiite judges.

  13. The bastard amply deserved to die. That from a guy normally totally opposed to the death penalty. But this is not Cory Maye.
    The Europeans are all up in arms about the “indignity” of Saddam’s end. They can’t even overcome their opposition to the death penalty when a savage mass-murdering despot is involved. They had to “speak out”, instead of just saying nothing, nobody asks them to abandon their sacred principles.The same kind of people couldn’t bring themselves to use force against Milosovic. Believe it or not, sometimes vengeance is good.
    Lamar, you’re full of shit regarding Stalin and it’s total, utter nonsense to compare N?rnberg. Get a grip!

    The big mistake was made when Saddam was buried at a known location. It will just become a shrine further dividing the country.

  14. “But what is the right way to kill a man who deserves to be killed?”

    Any way at all, in this case.

    What a lot of pathetic hand-wringing.

  15. What Saddam deserved was what he dished out during his brutal reign.

    What he got was the picture of civility by comparison.
    No torture, beatings or rape…just a quick necktie party.
    Enjoy your dirt nap, Saddam.

  16. I don’t know what “dead nuts” means, but I’m thinking of adopting it as my screen name.

    John,

    The Russians and Germans were not engaged in a spiral of tit-for-tat killings at the time of the Nuremberg trials. Arresting the ongoing descent into said tit-for-tat killings was not the primary mission of the Allied military at that time. There was not a global force dedicated to killing Americans that viewed the fostering of German-Russian tit-for-tat killings as the best way to advance its power and secure, say, Bulgaria as a base within which it could operate freely.

  17. :-

    Some breaking news: Lyddie gave him a pre dirt nap hummer while he was wearing a dog collar and singing “King Without a Crown”.

    So, in a way, some of your wishes came true!

  18. thoreau:

    You are mixing up Muqtada al-Sadr with Mohammed Bakir al-Sadr. The reference at the execution was to the latter, who was a Shiite Grand Ayatollah murdered at Saddams’s order in 1980.

  19. martin,

    You can clearly hear men chanting “Moqtada” on the audio.

  20. When they start, Saddam looks confused and asks, “Moqtada?”

  21. martin: if you read, then you’d know that my point was that it was pointless to compare the two. But I also wanted to note that Nurnberg was also a sham “trial.” And I’m curious why you think I’m full of shit about Stalin? I guess Stalin’s suggesting the execution of 50,000 Germans makes me full of shit?

    John, we seem to agree that both trials were glorified lynchings and justified lynchings. But since we knew (then and now) that the thugs were going to be executed, why bother with the dog and pony show?

  22. Maybe it was “Macaca”.

  23. “John, we seem to agree that both trials were glorified lynchings and justified lynchings. But since we knew (then and now) that the thugs were going to be executed, why bother with the dog and pony show?”

    You have a point. Bad cases make bad law. The fact is that you could not just let the Nazis walk off into peaceful retirement after murduring 13 million people and starting a war that killed 45 million. But, there was no way to give them a fair trial. They should have just put them up against the wall and shot them when they found them. It would have been messy but we wouldn’t have had the bad precidents that Nuremburg set.

  24. Actually, they were saying “Manamana“.

    Also, I’d like to start a baseless rumor that Saddam repented and became a Christian on his walk to the gallows. Or maybe he joined Scientology?

  25. lamar,

    What kind of ‘fair’ trial would you propose for such people as G?ring, Keitel, Ribbentrop, Sauckel or Ley to name a few?
    If you want to apply standards of present-day or even contemporary Democratic justice, it would never be quite just to even put them on trial. They would claim, as some did, that their actions were legal under German law.
    Would you propose that such a claim by Saddam should have been upheld?

  26. I may be mistaken, but I believe the comments here are missing the thrust of Mr Sullum’s post.

    No, the taunts bother people because they’re undignified and emotional, revealing too much about the true nature of the event, which is a dressed-up, cold-blooded version of vengeance, prescribed and limited by law. They bother people for the same reason we don’t have public executions anymore, with crowds gathering to jeer and cheer after a nice picnic lunch. But what is the right way to kill a man who deserves to be killed? Calmly, professionally, and rationally, or angrily and triumphantly, while shouting “die, motherfucker, die”?

    I am steadfastly anti-death penalty, but I will admit that “some people deserve to die.” We should not institutionalize murder, however, because the true nature of the execution is vengeance. I don’t recall the Founders granting that right in the Constitution. (Of course this execution took place in Iraq, but we are molding their gov’t in the image of ours, right?)

  27. [aside]
    “Dead nuts” is a shortened version of “dead nuts on” meaning ‘absolutely correct’. I thought it had a better ring to it, like something you’d name your band.[/aside]

  28. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, but still in training.

  29. Lamar,

    What Stalin suggested and what Stalin did are two different things. If he had wanted to summarily execute German prisoners, he had ample opportunity to have that done. In contrast, it is a fact that the Germans frequently selected Soviet POW, mainly officers, even after they had been in camps back in Germany for quite some time, and executed them. To the Germans the Russians were Untermenschen, while the Russians did not harbor such feelings motivated by racial theory.

  30. John,

    Don’t you think that Nuremberg aided de-Nazification by making their crimes public, and forcing the populace to deal with them?

    Without the camps thrown in their faces, wouldn’t patriotic Germans have continued to rally to the Nazis?

  31. …why bother with the dog and pony show?

    I think the trials can be seen as public expositions of the facts, rather than as trials in any Anglo-American justice system sense.

  32. highnumber,

    No Jacob’s point is exactly what I object to. I too am “am steadfastly anti-death penalty”, but in Saddam’s case it’s not worth getting my panties in a bunch. Still it’s a demonstration of civil authority, and therefore should not be entered into unadvisedly, or without due consideration; but seriously, discreetly, and with pure and upright motives.

  33. vengeance? perhaps, but in reality, this execution was functional. there will be no kidnappings, hostage-takings, or bombing campaigns demanding his release.

  34. Fair Trial? (Smirks) Yep, we’re gonna give you a trial and then were going to hang you. Might have been better to simply have dragged Sodom out of his hole and shot him.

    As to moving ahead and forgetting the past, what do you do with Sodom? Exile him to Corsica? And how do you reconcile that with the legions of dead that fell at his hand, or the soldiers that are now fertilizing the gardens along the Euphrates as a result of their loyalty to him?

  35. edna,
    Oh please, you think he will be less useful as a martyr?

  36. “Don’t you think that Nuremberg aided de-Nazification by making their crimes public, and forcing the populace to deal with them?”

    To some degree yes. Certainly, the Nuremburg trials served a usful purpose of thoroughly documenting the crimes of the Nazis for history. Of course that doesn’t stop there from being a holocost denial industry.

    If what you are saying is true, and I think it is to some degree, then the absolute fairness of the trials is pretty irrelevent. If the trials reached the right result and served as a vehicle to document the crimes for history, two things they certainly did, what difference does it make that they really were not fair to obviously guilty defendents deserving of death especially considering the fact that circumstances rendered a fair trial impossible? The same things could be said about the Saddam trial.

  37. My understanding was that Churchill basically wanted to declare them criminals and execute them without trial. Stalin wanted trials having learned the propoganda value of trials in the Soviet Union, but wasn’t particularly interested in any fairness.

    So much of this is just a show (the outcome was certain and international law is still an illusion – except that to the winners go….), and the hoods in Baghdad simply didn’t play their part accordingly. That’s what’s got people ticked. That and we should be showered with flowers and peace should reign supreme as the people

  38. oops.

    Basically, we’re still awaiting a thank you from people who don’t really want to thank us.

  39. Frankly, I don’t care how he died, just that he’s dead. I wouldn’t have cared at all if Iraqis Ceausescu’d him. Just the fact that he couldn’t retire to a life of relative luxury in exile, like so many other murderous dictators have, is enough.

    Does that make me a bad person?

    Trials are for the sake of history. Justice served is for the living.

    Now, if this could have been accomplished without a bloody invasion and occupation, so much the better.

  40. I agree that the conduct of the jailers is pretty disturbing. This was pretty much the highest profile thing the Iraqi government has done, it was incredibly simple to do, and they completely botched it. Hopefully this drives the final nail in the President’s absurd belief that Iraq can be a unified state. What Sunni or Kurd in their right mind would want to be part of a national government that can’t even find 5 employees to just pretend, for 10 minutes, not to be fantacial members of a religious extremist militia?

  41. Warren,

    I, too, do not have my panties in a bunch about this particular man leaving the earthly realm, but I cannot get behind the state killing people except in direct self-defense.
    The other issues of whether the trial is perceived as fair, etc. do not make me comfortable, either.

  42. Pro Liberate:

    Svezia, inferno e paradiso (1968)
    Original of the muppets’ song comes from here

    “Edmund Purdom narrates a documentary about Sweden. It shows contraceptives for teen girls, lesbian nightclubs, wife swapping, porno movies, biker gangs, and Walpurgis Night celebrations. It also examines Swedens drug, drinking and high suicide problems. It featured the Swedish nonsense song “Mah-Na Mah-Na” later used on the “Sesame Street” Show.”

    THE NSFW Trailer

  43. I have now found a translation of what was said at Saddam’s execution, but had to translate it in turn as it is in German.
    http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,457586,00.html
    The tone quality is described as bad and hardly understandable.
    Der Spiegel has no interest in making this sad event look better, more likely the opposite, in my opinion.

    As two masked men put the rope around Saddam’s neck:

    Saddam: Oh God!

    Several unrecognised people: God bless all those praying for Muhammed and his descendants. Peace be unto Muhammed and his followers. May the arrival of the Mahdi be quickened and may his enemies be damned.

    A man: Muktada! Muktada! Muktada!

    Saddam, acting surprised: Muktada? Is this how you show your courage as men?

    A man: To hell!

    Saddam: Is this the courage of Arabs?

    A man: To hell!

    Saddam: The hell which is Iraq?

    Another man, possibly Munkith al-Farun, the prosecutor: Please this man is being executed. I beg you!

    Another man: Long live Muhammed Bakir al-Sadr!

    Saddam: I declare, there is no God beside God and Muhammed is God’s prophet. I declare, there is no God beside God and Muhammed is the prophet of …

    The trap has been sprung…

    So there are references to both al-Sadrs.
    I apologise, could not find an English version of this.
    Unless something is missing, I do not think these were bad, personal taunts of Saddam.

  44. “So there are references to both al-Sadrs”

    Al-Sadres old man was a real deal holy man. His son is just a thug that should have been put out of the world’s misery years ago.

  45. John,

    “If the trials reached the right result and served as a vehicle to document the crimes for history, two things they certainly did, what difference does it make that they really were not fair to obviously guilty defendents deserving of death especially considering the fact that circumstances rendered a fair trial impossible?”

    The unfair elements of the trials, minimal though they were, have served to keep the Holocaust denial industry alive. It’s grist for their mill, and we shouldn’t have handed them that.

  46. I think an important reason that people are upset about Saddam being taunted was that it give Saddam a chance to taunt the crowd back. This showed that Saddam went to his death bravely, which has certainly emboldened the Sunni resistance.

  47. “The unfair elements of the trials, minimal though they were, have served to keep the Holocaust denial industry alive. It’s grist for their mill, and we shouldn’t have handed them that.”

    True enough, but there was no way to have a fair trial. Certainly anything that involved the Soviets was not going to be fair and there was no way to keep the Soviets out of the process. It is the same with Saddam. Any trial involving the Shiites was going to be a foregone conclusion. At the same time, there was no way to keep the Shiites out of the trial. You take the best of the bad options available, do the trial and at least hang the right people.

  48. Jacob,

    I could not disagree with you more. First of all, no government should have the power to execute people. The death penalty should be abhorrent to libertarians, who view state power as minimal.

    Second, allowing the taunting of Saddam and letting his hanging look like a sectarian lynching is one more huge, huge tactical mistake that the US occupation has made. US mistakes created the insurgency, and they keep on doing it.

    Third, every person deserves dignity. It is the mindset of “screw those assholes, they are terrorists” that led to Padilla’s brutal imprisonment in a US brig and the human rights mess in Guantanamo.

  49. Second, allowing the taunting of Saddam and letting his hanging look like a sectarian lynching is one more huge, huge tactical mistake that the US occupation has made.

    What if the US strategy is to ignite the sectarian war in the first place? I certainly is the neo-cons plan all along.

  50. John,

    I’m not slagging the Nuremberg people. I’m willing to believe that they made the trials and executions as fair as they could – and they achieved a very high level, in my opinion.

    The Saddam trial and, especially, execution? Not so much.

  51. All of this mess could have been avoided if Saddam had had half of the cojones his boys showed and refused to be taken alive. He couldn’t expect any more than Rooster Cogburn promised Hawk; “a fair trial and a fine hangin”.

  52. “this execution was functional. there will be no kidnappings, hostage-takings, or bombing campaigns demanding his release.”

    True. But there will be plenty of those in Iraq anyway.

  53. “this execution was functional. there will be no kidnappings, hostage-takings, or bombing campaigns demanding his release.”

    True. But there will be plenty of those in Iraq anyway.

    What do you think they will demand instead?
    I hope it’s sand or oil, because I think we can take care of that.

  54. On the other hand, I’m a little puzzled by the expectation that one really should be polite to a gentleman one is about to kill.

    Yes, I’m trying to think of how you can kill another human being with dignity. Is it a faux pas to neglect to extend your pinkie while slipping the noose on?

    Anyways, the lesson I take from this is that our adventure has been reduced to providing the Shiites an opportunity to do an endzone dance. I can’t wait to see the “surge” attempt to break up the celebration.

  55. Oh please, you think he will be less useful as a martyr?

    at least matthew disagreed with me about something i actually said. that’s fine. i don’t know where this martyr stuff came from. or did you not mean to quote me and were actually responding to someone else?

  56. The timing of the execution is another sore point. Suspiciously hasty – ANOTHER trial involving Saddam had yet to be concluded (the ones where he stands accused of gassing Kurds) – and then done rather insensitively on the eve of the Muslims’ celebration of Aidil Adha.

    The equivalent would have been like capturing Hitler alive and then hanging him on Christmas Eve. Tasteful and dignified, that. But heck, he’s a monster not a man, hey?

    And in Saddam’s case, all neatly wrapped up just two days before congressional elections in the US. Whaddyaknow.

  57. Jacob! when someone you love or you stand on a trapdoor with people jeering and mocking your impending death then perhaps you might know why so many of us are upset. Stop being arogant about death…its around the corner for all of us.

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