Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti is dead, and yet the people of the United States, an ocean away, knew about it before I did. Already, people have messaged me, asking about the local response to Hussein's hanging. Not being on a mission presently, of course, I can't honestly say. The last few nights of tower guard have been filled with the sounds of distant gunfire and exploding mortar shells, but then again, that's every night in this place. But I digress.
So Saddam Hussein is dead, and how do I feel? Honestly, I'm still not sure. On the one hand, I look at the images of cheering Iraqi Shiites, and think that this has helped them heal; and yet on the other, I am simultaneously disappointed and disgusted by this turn of events. Answer me this: who was really punished by Saddam Hussein's hanging? Was it Saddam Hussein? I doubt it. The victim rests now among the graceful dead; bouyed even in his final moments by, it is said, an unswerving conviction in choices made without regret. Murderer, despot, madman; call him what one will, based on the reports I've seen, Saddam Hussein faced his own death like a man.
So who, then, is punished by Saddam Hussein's hanging? Is it the Sunni minority he represented in Iraq? It was, after all, the Sunnis under Saddam who prospered most greatly, and the Sunnis who first embraced violent resistance at Saddam's instruction. Could it be that Saddam's death was meant to be effigiac in nature; a warning of vengeance by a long-oppressed Shiite majority? It's possible. After all, the former dictator was fond of bold statements to his rivals, so such a statement from a largely Shiite court shouldn't come as surprising.
Who is punished by the death of Saddam Hussein? Is it the Bush Administration? This war was their idea, and to an extent this execution then rests upon them, puppet courts be damned. This trial, and the sentence carried with it, have seemed to be a focus of the Administration's plan from day one. Indeed, watching the trial in the months before my deployment, I couldn't shake the feeling that the entire proceeding seemed to be terribly inauthentic, as if justice had been confused for retribution. Not once have I seen the images and been able to feel that Justice, in any sense, was being served by this trial.
And why would that be? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, by any means, so what am I say to these shadowy doubts in the court created by my commander-in-chief, built to try and convict said Administrations' longtime rival? How am I to hear the talk of Justice served, when I see none? Where is the fair trial, where is the serious legal discourse here? Is there any to see here? Was there any to begin with? I don't honestly know that there was, and truthfully when dealing with questions of justice in this trial, I have to confess I don't really see any. I don't anyone behind this decision was ever really interested in Justice.
Why else would we silently endorse an execution for one crime before another ever gets to see court? Why would we violate U.N. policy by insisting Saddam be tried by his own victims, rather than hauled in cuffs to a war crimes tribunal in The Hague? Why hang him and make a show of rejoicing in his death, when we could have let him die in a Belgian jail cell? Would such a thing have been any less Justice served? Would such a simple show of mercy have been such a terrible price for a shred of restored honor? Apparently, the people in power seem to think so.
What is justice? Is it hanging an aging murderer, giving him a last shot of publicity before touting his death as an Administration victory? Is it encouraging the people of this shattered country to forsake violence, and then saying nothing when they slake their thirst with the blood of their former oppressor? Is that what we, a predominantly Christian-influenced society,
should want? Is that what Christ would have wanted?
I've long since concluded that no civilized society can ethically support the death penalty, no matter how egregious the crime. But this execution offends more than my moral sensibilities. It offends my sense of duty; only exacerbates the sense that this effort at reparation is nothing but a trophy hunt, another cheap stuffed head to be mounted on the wall of Bush's legacy. Where is the Justice in any of this? At best, we've made hypocrites of ourselves; at worse, we've ensured that the violence and death will only continue.
This has not been Justice. Justice wouldn't force us to compromise our own morals in order to enforce it. Justice wouldn't bend itself to support our interests. Justice wouldn't need to spill blood to make amends. True Justice would be more that just skin deep.