January 4, 2007 -- Saddam Hussein is deservedly dead, hanged as the heinous criminal he was. But the process by which justice was administered was disappointing, and highlights the wide gap in values between Iraq’s culture and that of any civilized country.
I wrote three years ago that a trial of Hussein offered an opportunity for Iraqis to affirm universal principles of justice the way the Nuremberg trials did after World War II. Nazi war criminals faced charges of aggression, crimes committed during war, and crimes against humanity. The judges were representatives of the victors, but this was not victors' justice. True, the Soviet government, whose leaders deserved the same treatment as the Nazis, had a representative on the panel of judges alongside members from the United States, Britain, and France. But the process allowed the Nazis to defend themselves, and several were even acquitted.
But most importantly, the crimes of the Nazi regime were documented for all to see. Principles of justice, plus a detailed look at how they were undermined, offered an objective lesson to all countries seeking to keep the commitment of "never again."
In Iraq, Saddam was convicted and executed for the 1982 murders of 148 people in the town of Dujail in the wake of an assassination attempt against him. He deserved his fate, but his trial did not lay out the broader principles of justice that should govern any legitimate regime. Nor did it review the full scope of his regime's crimes that led to the torture and deaths of hundreds of thousands.
At the Nuremberg trial, Hermann Goeing, the highest-ranking Nazi in the dock, tried to dominate the proceedings and make a case for his regime. It didn't work. The judges and prosecutors made sure the trial didn't become a circus. By contrast, Saddam was allowed to use his trial in Baghdad as a theater platform to continue to stir up his supporters.
The Nazis hanged at Nuremberg were taken to the gallows in an orderly manner, allowed to make any last statements they wished, and then were dispatched. Such a process acknowledges them as human beings, albeit morally failed ones and vile criminals. It makes the point that while they deserve their fate, the actions that so damn them constitute their tragic waste of their own and others' human potential and lives.
At Saddam's hanging, he was taunted by executioners with shouts of support for Moqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr is the Islamo-fascist Shiite death squad leader who murders Americans and other Iraqis. In a just country, he would share the gallows with Hussein. Thus the execution of Saddam is seen as one group of murdering thugs killing a murdering thug opponent, not as a legitimate government administering justice. Only the Iraqis could actually elicit sympathy for a mass murderer swinging at the end of a rope.
The situation in post-war Germany and the situation in Iraq today offer a stark contrast between the values underpinning the two countries.
After the war, there were certainly committed Nazis whose only regret was that they lost. But there were also those who favored some Nazi policies but understood too late the regime's folly would and did lead to tragedy. There were those who were deeply ashamed of themselves and their country. And there were those who had opposed the Nazis. A few fought the regime. Many were its victims, and many didn't have the opportunity or courage to oppose it.
After the allied victory, nearly all Germans simply wanted to put the war behind them, roll up their sleeves, and rebuild the country. Germany still had enough of the civilized values manifest in the West to put the country and culture back on the path to a civilized regime.
Symbolic of the commitment to those values was the fact that amid the rubble, with little electricity, running water, food, and other comforts of a modern society, Germans gathered in freezing, collapsing auditoriums, bundled in worn coats and hats, to listen to musicians who shared their situation play Beethoven and Mozart—and to remind themselves of what it was like to be human.
By contrast, the culture in Iraq today is driven by tribalism, religious fanaticism, Islamo-fascism, power lust, hate, and envy. Yes, many Iraqis want peace and the opportunity to rebuild their lives. But too many are motivated by savagery from the depths of their souls. They value killing hundreds of each other each week over respecting the lives, liberties, and property of one another—that is, the principles of civilization. Perhaps they deserve to be free, but too few are actually fit to be free. Establishing a democratic regime on these values is building a house on quicksand.
Saddam Hussein is dead, but his malignant spirit survives and runs with the blood in the streets of his country. What must die for civilization to live is not any given individuals but the anti-life values that they represent.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.
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