Where Did Barzan Go?


The botched hanging of Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother and former head (no pun intended) of the Iraqi tyrant's secret police, was like so gross, not to mention troubling for anyone who still had any confidence in the current government's competence. But it also has its lighter aspects:

"When the trapdoor opened, I realized that I was looking at the rope swinging freely, and I asked myself, 'Where did Barzan go?' " said Jaafar al-Moussawi, who was chief prosecutor at the trial that ended with the death sentences for Mr. Hussein, Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Bandar. He added: "I thought that somehow he had gotten loose. So I moved forward toward the pit and looked down, and saw the convict Barzan lying on the ground without his head."

Like the complaints that Saddam's execution was insufficiently dignified, the flinching at the separation of Ibrahim's body from his head is both understandable and strange. If a guillotine had been the chosen means of execution, presumably this outcome would have been unobjectionable. And then the Iraqis would not have had to worry about calculating the correct drop for a given height and weight to avoid asphyxiation on the one hand and decapitation on the other. The guillotine was designed to be an especially humane method of execution that would avoid such problems. Given Saudi penal practices, I assume there's no special Muslim objection to dismemberment of criminals, but I could be wrong.