Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saddam Execution Farce

A little more than 24 hours ago, Saddam Hussein was executed in Iraq, the result of his death sentence he received as a result of the Dujail incident. Throughout the trial, some Sunnis in Iraq felt suspicious of the whole judicial process, thinking it a sham; a kangaroo trial leading to the foregone conclusion of a death sentence. And, while the judges and court officials put out a great effort to allay these suspicions, these efforts were largely undone by the spitefulness and general lack of professionalism that surrounded Saddam's execution.

The timing of the execution seemed preplanned to spite the Sunni population in Iraq. Eid al-Adha (the feast of the sacrifice) is one of two major feasts in the Muslim calendar. Sunnis celebrate Eid al-Adha this year starting December 30, while Shias celebrate it one day later. Thus, Saddam's execution was held on the first day of the Sunnis' Eid.

A court official was asked by a news reporter why they chose to execute Saddam on the first day of Eid - he responded that Eid in Iraq starts on Sunday, despite the fact that for the Sunnis it started on Saturday.

Another element of the execution that was wrong was the taunting of Saddam Hussein by the executioners in the moments before his execution. This video was captured by a small video camera (likely a cellphone) by a witness to the execution, and it is plainly obvious why the video the Iraqi government released earlier in the day stopped prior to the trapdoor being opened.

After Saddam is put on the trapdoor and the noose is placed over his neck, he begins to quietly pray. His prayers are drowned out by one of the executioners and some members of the crowd shouting, "Muqtada, Muqdada, Muqtada!"

Saddam retorted from the gallows: "Muqtada? Is this how you show your bravery as men? Is this the bravery of Arabs?"

Members of the crowd drowned out Saddam with calls of, "Straight to hell!", and "Long live Mohammed Baqir Sadr!"

Finally, someone (perhaps one of the executioners) calls out to the crowd, "Please, I am begging you not to, the man is being executed."

At this point the trapdoor opens, Saddam drops, and the crowd erupts in cheers.

There are two things I find profoundly disturbing about this video. Firstly, is completely unprofessional for an executioner or witnesses to an execution to taunt the condemned man, drowning out his prayers with vicious taunts. The condemned man is set to die - why does it need to be made cruel? Did these men taunt Saddam using the name of Sadr on purpose, knowing their taunts would be captured on video?

In addition to the taunts, it is completely inappropriate for the crowd at the execution to be dancing and rejoicing. No matter how much one may dislike a man or his crimes, it is never right to rejoice over his death.

The barbarity of Saddam's execution, the video of it quickly released to Iraqi television, and the execution timed to coincide with the start of a holy day for Sunni Muslims but not for Shias - all of these things seem to be a carefully crafted message from members of the Shia dominated government to the Sunni minority: we don't care what you think, we are running things now, and we will do whatever we want without regard to you. And, in conducting the execution in this spiteful way, the execution team has damaged and undermined some of the credibility the court worked hard to build up, and Iraq has taken a further step towards fractionalism, and sectarian alienation.

A sad day for Iraq, for America, and for the world.