January 05, 2007


The Death of a Convenient Monster

By Ibrahim Ramey

Saddam Hussein is dead. And it’s hard for most people to imagine anything sacrilegious or wrong about his execution.

After all, Saddam, for the last two decades, has been the media poster child for political violence and evil not only in Iraq, but also in the world. His strutting, arrogantly handsome image filled television screens and news reports since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and especially in the years following Gulf War I. 

And who can forget the images of the tortured, twisted victims of Saddam’s Kurdish victims of poison gas attacks, or the broken, mutilated victims of his savage political repression machine.

But while it’s true that most the world is elated (or at least relieved) that the Iraqi president is no longer among the living, there is something wrong-and even sinister-about the way in which he was dispatched.

If international law still has meaning among the “civilized” nations of the world, it’s clear that it was right for the people of Iraq to bring Saddam Hussein Al-Tikriti before some bar of justice, whether in Baghdad or The Hague. It may even be defensible (at least for some) that he paid the ultimate price for his crimes against the people of Iraq.

Yet the legitimacy of the trial and execution of Saddam was badly eroded by the fact that it happened under the authority of a government in collaboration with the foreign invaders of a sovereign state. These invaders, in fact, themselves violated international law (and morality) by launching a war, in violation of the United Nations Charter, based on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that did not, in fact, exist.

None of this should mean that Saddam should have been exonerated. But it does mean that the legitimacy of his trial and execution was compromised by the very illegitimacy of the United States war on Iraq.

What is also disturbing is the fact that the actual execution of Saddam Hussein (which violated the Iraqi Constitution by taking place on the sacred Eid al-Adha), devolved into a virtual revenge killing, with some of his Shi’a guards visibly mocking and insulting their prisoner, and apparently refusing to allow him to complete the recitation of his final Shahada (“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger”). He got to the word “Muhammad” when the gallows floor was dropped.

The aftermath of the execution witnessed great exultation among the Iraqi people victimized by Saddam’s regime, and cries of outrage from his much less numerous supporters and Sunni co-religionists. But the heated passion generated by Saddam’s death is unlikely to bring closure to the investigation of the real crimes of his regime (and the outside powers, including the United States of America, that have periodically helped him do his dirt). And the vortex of mutual violence that has consumed Sunni and Shia Muslims alike is not likely to end because of Saddam’s death.

Executions are final dispensations, and they cannot be undone. And there is no value in concocting historical fiction that denies, or minimizes, the magnitude of the evil of Saddam Hussein’s rule. We who will not mourn his passing know that Allah (SWT) will be the ultimate judge of his life, even if the process of temporal justice was flawed.

  Killing Saddam may provide some sense of cheap vindication for the Americans and Iraqis who have wanted him dead for a long time. No doubt, the Bush administration will spin the event as another example of their “success” in the face of a failed war policy. But the death of Saddam Hussein does not alter, in the least, the geopolitical reality in Iraq or the continuation of the almost apocalyptic level of violence in that nation.

The end of a convenient monster- partially assembled and paid for by our own tax dollars -should force the world to look more deeply at the layers of international intrigue, arms dealing, and complicity that enabled his evil to take root, and institutionalize itself, in Iraq.

Iraq is still bloody, broken, and occupied. The misery of the Iraqi people has not ended.

But if true freedom and justice will come to Iraq, then the other guilty parties-and especially those responsible for the economic sanctions and war that killed, since 1990, far more Iraqis that even Saddam Hussein could manage to do-must face some form of justice as well.

Ibrahim Ramey, the author, is the Director of the Human and Civil Rights Division of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.  He has traveled to Iraq on two occasions (in 1998 and 2000) as is one of the founding members of the humanitarian Campaign of Conscience for the Iraq People, which openly challenged the sanctions against Iraq. Ramey, in addition to having lectured at numerous U.S. universities on the issue of the Iraq war, served as a member of the U.S. Tribunal on Iraq, which investigated violations of international law committed by U.S. military forces during the initial months of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Letters to the Editor Return to the Frontpage