December 30, 2006

"That I could feel pity for him struck the Iraqis with whom I talked as evidence of a profound moral corruption."

John Burns on Saddam Hussein:
The man who stepped into the court had the demeanor of a condemned man, his eyes swiveling left, then right, his gait unsteady, his curious, lisping voice raised to a tenor that resonated fear....

At that instant, I felt sorry for him, as a man in distress and perhaps, too, as a once almighty figure reduced to ignominy. ...

That I could feel pity for him struck the Iraqis with whom I talked as evidence of a profound moral corruption. I came to understand how a Westerner used to the civilities of democracy and due process — even a reporter who thought he grasped the depths of Saddam’s depravity — fell short of the Iraqis’ sense, forged by years of brutality, of the power of his unmitigated evil.
I too have that "profound moral corruption" of expecting to see "the civilities of democracy and due process." I hope that corruption spreads.


goesh said...

Stretched by the neck into infamy and eternity but the reality is he is now maggot food

Charlie Martin said...

Do you doubt that he committed the crimes for which he was executed, or the other crimes against humanity he was being tried for?

"Due process" is a mechanism to arrive at an approximation of truth; would a better process have arrived at a different result?

altoids1306 said...

I too have that "profound moral corruption" of expecting to see "the civilities of democracy and due process." I hope that corruption spreads.

As much as I agree with Althouse, I must disagree on this point. The essential arrogance of the liberal is his/her moral superiority.

We would all like to believe that we are above such untasteful things like revenge and execution, but we can only contemplate these things because of the vast violence that is applied on our behalf. Our confortable lives are supported by the efforts of soldiers and police everywhere.

We are only humane because we can afford our humanity - but place us in the jungle, and we would savages just the same.

Joe said...

He got the trial and appeal he never afforded to his victims. You and Burns can't seriously be suggesting he did not get due process. Even in the US there is no constitutional guarantee of a perfect trial. And from what I saw the judges gave his defense a lot of leeway.
He had to die to end the possibility of ever being restored to power. In that sense the death penalty was a deterrent - the Iraqis will never have to fear his return.

Harry Eagar said...

I'd feel better about 'due process' if the follow-through was more reliable.

For example, the (alleged) spiritual mastermind of the Bali bombings has been released after about 2 years. Legally, I believe the argument was miscarriage of justice the first time, but some people (most of them Australian) think it was a political release.

If executions are forbidden, then the alternative is to lock people away for a long time or let them loose. Wasn't there a thread at althouse blog just a few weeks ago questioning the brutality of Wisconsin's Supermax?

Anonymous said...

I think you're misreading Burns, or maybe he's misreading the Iragis. I don't think the Iraqis he encountered considered him morally corrupt because of his preference for the civilities of democracy and due process. Such a preference is totally independent of whether one has pity.

One can have no pity at all for the condemned and still feel strongly in favor of observing the civilities of democracy and due process. In fact, due process is in large part a structural protection against ad hoc judgments based on pity.

The Iraqis have bought into our notion of due process and provided him a fair trial. That they do not also indulge westernized hangups about recognizing evil for what it is and melancholy about dispatching it is hardly evidence that they aren't respectful enough of the civilities of democracy and due process.

PatCA said...

Jeff D puts it well. Saddam had his trial, and now it's over. Should we have insisted on 20 years of appeals for him or objections to the noose as cruel and unusual punishment? The price for that: encouraging the insurgents and tormenting his victims for the rest of their lives.

Gerry said...

I have no problem with feeling pity for someone who has succumbed to the temptations of evil.

However, if this leads us to become less resolute in the face of evil, then I have a real problem with it.

vnjagvet said...

John Burns is a great reporter. He exquisitly describes what most have failed to report; that Saddam finally showed fear. Whether fear of Allah, fear of death or fear of finally losing his sense that someone somewhere would rescue him for his ultimate return to his former "rightful place" as Ruler of the Arabian People, who knows.

But it is worth it to me to read Burns' account for the satisfaction that this evil monster of a man finally was truly afraid.

I suspect there are many Iraqis that are emotionally satisfied with this result.

I do not believe they are any less civilized for that satisfaction.

Cedarford said...

I have no problem with feeling pity for someone who has succumbed to the temptations of evil.
However, if this leads us to become less resolute in the face of evil, then I have a real problem with it.

Agree. I remember reading an article about the burning suburbs of France and the contempt of Muslims for the post modern moral relativism of the French...which they took as cowardly diffidence.

Nothing worth fighting for. Nothing worth defending. All beliefs and opinions of the same value - essentially negating all. Evil and good do not exist - just miscellaneous root causes. "Oh, and by the way, you deeply valued for who you are Muslims don't get favorable employment opportunities because that is the way it is, but we cheer your culture!"

No wonder the cars burn.
Living in the face of such profound moral corruption tends to enrage.

Just as in the ME they likely
look at people determined to see the good in Saddam or champion endless due process as inhuman. Creatures from another planet, or just people berift of any conscience or values. Evil is not to be pitied, nor acts of evil done by man that must be punished commensurately free of pity for the act or in worse cases, a man who has taken on a predominance of evil.
Like in America for most it's history until transnational progressives acquired power and clout - it's much simpler. Either you like what Saddam did and support him, or he is a monster that should be swiftly punished.

There is no lamentation in Iran or in Kurdish areas on how Saddam should have been kept alive another 10-15 years so they could have "the closure of a series long trials addressing all victim stakeholders and followed by endless appeals to ensure fairness and Saddams full civil liberties where cherished and advanced to the utmost.

I looked at a few Iranian Blogs this morning and the buzz was not wailing over being denied the "closure" of war crimes trials for Saddams was "good riddance."

Closure caused by years of "entitled victim's speeches", a massive cluster of lawyers argumenting ceaselessly is an absolutely alien concept over there. "Closure" itself is alien. How much grief, how long it is proper and halal - is already well-decided by Qu'ran, the hadiths and scholars interpretation.
Same with the recent transnational Elite's belief that the most evil of men still deserve to live. Not in most people's eyes, particularly in venues like the ME outside Israel the Euroweenies and transnational secular progressives don't dominate.

Ernie Fazio said...

Evil monster of a man? Perhaps. Just another tyrant? Perhaps. Remember that we supported him against the Ayatollah in the Iran-Iraq War. Rummie shook hands and delivered the weapons of mass destruction used on the Kurds. I agree with Juan Cole that much of this execution has the stench of farce and incompetence. First, it occurs on a Sunni holiday (the Shi'ites celebrate the same holiday the following day) and executions are not allowed to occur on such holidays thus smacking of sectarian elitism. Second, the charges were of a "small" massacre of Dawa Shi'ites, Maliki's group. Hence, the execution for a sectarian crime rather than a crime against humanity or the broader crimes against Sunnis or against the Kurds and Shi'ites post Desert Storm again suggests sectarian preference. Third, even l'Althouse must agree that the assassination of three defense counsels, the appointment of three judges, one of whom was removed for being too fair, the admission of way too much heresay evidence, and the limitation of the defense itself suggest that this was at best a show trial and at worst a miscarriage of justice.

Why not have a real war crime tribunal that included all his crimes? Why not try to preserve a semblance of justice? Why not? Some say that there would be a little too much American complicity in those crimes. Noreiga go brah.

Daryl Herbert said...

In what respect were due process or"the civilities of democracy" lacking regarding Saddam's execution? He got a fair trial, a fair sentence, and it was carried out fairly.

The reporter was sad to see Saddam die. His sadness had nothing to do with due process or the civilities of a democracy. It had to do with being uneasy about an execution.

I'll admit I felt the same twinge. It's hard to see a man put to death. A broken, sad man who can't possibly fight back. But I'm not going to tell you that I'm proud of that impulse. It's a sense of our shared humanity--which I don't really want to share with Saddam--and has nothing to do with democracy or due process.

Maybe it's good to feel that. Maybe that's important. Maybe some Iraqis feel it too and they're angry at themselves for feeling it, so they bottle up their emotions and lash out at anyone dumb enough to say they feel it.


Which leads to a more difficult problem. I doubt this reporter feels so broken up about run-of-the-mill Iraqis die, or American soldiers, or other coalition forces. I doubt he felt so strongly when video came out of Iranians being hanged from cranes.

The reporter identifies with Saddam. It could be that Saddam represents a bunch of positive things, in addition to the bad (he was rich, powerful, granted interviews to American journalists, etc.). It might also just be because he's been on TV a lot. We've seen a lot of him, and now he's going to die.

I know on an academic level that every person is a human being, and experiences much of the same feelings and emotions. But I get a stronger sense that Saddam is a human being, than, say, a random African, simply because he moves around on my TV. I know him. And with hi-def TV, people are going to bond more closely with characters on TV.

Is that profound corruption? In a way, it is a perversion of our moral sense. We're considering factors that have nothing to do with morality. I'm not sure it's profound, unless we let it get out of hand. We need to recognize the celebrity effect, and not give them inordinately special treatment. We certainly shouldn't be puffing ourselves up for experiencing it.

vnjagvet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
vnjagvet said...


At one time, Saddam was used by officials of the USA as a tool in the fight against the Soviet Union.

Stalin was likewise an ally of the US in the fight against Nazi Germany.

My judgment that Saddam was an evil human being with a monstrous homicidal streak is not changed in the least by his having been at one time on "our" side. Nor is my judgment that Stalin was similarly deficient in the morality department changed in the slightest by the fact that without him, a victory in WWII would likely have been much delayed, if not denied to the allied forces.

My opinion about Saddam's worth as a human being remains the same.

I trust that in the future, the decisions we make about allies are strictly made according to a cold calculation; taking all factors into consideration, will they help us achieve our strategic objectives.

Harry Eagar said...

You got that right about 'celebrity effect,' Daryl.

The Iraqi government has been hanging people right along, and hardly anybody has been blogging or grieving or examining his own entrails over them.

I don't know who these anonymous executees were, whether they were guilty of anything or not, but I will bet the house that they were not all Dawas. Cole is nothing but an apologist for terrorism.

Paco Wové said...

"Remember that we supported him against the Ayatollah in the Iran-Iraq War. Rummie shook hands and delivered the weapons of mass destruction used on the Kurds."

I see this claim being made repeatedly, but I have yet to see evidence backing it up. Can anyone supply such?

Tom T. said...

Paco, here's what Wikipedia says about that topic:

"According [sic] Iraq's report to the UN, the know-how and material for developing chemical weapons were obtained from firms in such countries as: the United States, West Germany, the United Kingdom, France and China. By far, the largest suppliers of precursors for chemical weapons production were in Singapore (4,515 tons), the Netherlands (4,261 tons), Egypt (2,400 tons), India (2,343 tons), and West Germany (1,027 tons). One Indian company, Exomet Plastics (now part of EPC Industrie) sent 2,292 tons of precursor chemicals to Iraq. The Kim Al-Khaleej firm, located in Singapore and affiliated to United Arab Emirates, supplied more than 4,500 tons of VX, sarin, and mustard gas precursors and production equipment to Iraq."

Paco Wové said...

TT, thanks for the reference -- I was familiar with the Wikipedia article, but it (and the sources it cites) are a bit light on specifics. I don't think it supports 'Ernie Fazio's' interpretation of events, though.

Thorley Winston said...

Paco Wové, I think you have to understand how the argument works.

If someone in the United States sells a dual-use technology (such as an insecticide) which could conceivable be turned into a WMD to the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, that’s considered the same as the United States government providing WMD’s to Saddam Hussein and is fair game for attacking the United States government.

However if Coalition troops find dual-use technologies in Iraq with signs that they have been modified to be turned into chemical weapon, they are not considered WMD’s because doing so would add legitimacy to the argument that Iraq had or continued to keep technology for making WMD’s.

Bottom line: if a normally benign technology could be turned into an awful weapon with the right know-how, it’s considered a WMD for the purpose of accusing the United States government of “hypocrisy” for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. If normally benign technologies have actually been turned into or were being turned into weapons, they’re not considered WMD’s for the purpose of attacking the United States government for “lying” about one of the reasons for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.