Other View: On life imprisonment rather than death for Saddam
Iraqi prosecutors had the goods on Saddam Hussein. That was the conclusion of five judges who took three months reviewing the mountain of evidence brought out in the first criminal case against Iraq's ousted president. The world has to hope that ...
Iraqi prosecutors had the goods on Saddam Hussein. That was the conclusion of five judges who took three months reviewing the mountain of evidence brought out in the first criminal case against Iraq's ousted president. The world has to hope that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was right in saying the verdict brings down the curtain on Saddam's era of darkness. Yet that hope is tough to maintain while a sectarian killing frenzy continues in Baghdad.
Given his crimes and those of his regime, it is impossible to muster any sympathy for Saddam as he now faces the prospect of departing this life from the gallows. But that doesn't mean his execution would advance the cause of peace.
Leaders of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority have sought justice for Saddam, understandably, because they were among those brutally marginalized by the dictator and his fellow Sunni Muslims. They are entitled to see their tormentor punished. They also have the option of tempering justice with mercy, and that's what American diplomats ought to be urging them to do.
So far, Saddam has received a high quality of justice at the hands of his countrymen. The Iraqi Special Tribunal that handled his case has had the support of many lawyers, investigators, researchers and, of necessity, bodyguards. It lays the groundwork for potential reconciliation for all the misdeeds of Saddam's regime to be methodically investigated and prosecuted. In the current trial, a damning piece of evidence was a document, signed by Saddam, approving the summary executions of 148 Shiites following a 1982 assassination attempt.
Saddam's rule, as it emerged during the trial, threw salt into Islam's sectarian wound. Iraq's Sunnis were privileged with positions of power and influence, while Shiites saw their farmland confiscated and the bodies of their neighbors dumped like so much trash. Over two decades, Saddam created and nurtured a culture of violence to tighten his grip on power.
Now, owing to free elections held after American forces toppled Saddam's regime, the Shiite majority wields the power in a divided nation. Those participating in the wave of revenge killings can no longer blame a Sunni strongman for their country's woe. Healing is largely up to the Shiite leadership.
Stopping the killing at Saddam and his henchmen would be a persuasive way to begin that healing. To hear him tell it at trial, life behind bars is no picnic -- nor should it be for one of history's villains. But sparing Saddam's life would rob his remaining followers of a martyr and set a higher standard for a democratic Iraq.
The choice, unquestionably, belongs to the Iraqi people. Their U.S. advisers ought to make sure the choice is clear.
Raleigh News & Observer