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Friday, December 29, 2006 

Give him the respect he deserves?

I wonder who you think you are
You damn well think you're God or something
God give life, God taketh it away, not you
I think you are the Devil itself

Manic Street Preachers, Archives of Pain.

One of the finest and most controversial songs that Richey Edwards wrote for the Manic Street Preachers' Holy Bible album shortly before he disappeared, Archives of Pain, always comes into my thoughts when I consider the rights and wrongs of capital punishment. Although Edwards intended it as pro-capital punishment, whether those were his beliefs or not, the lyrics themselves are ambiguous enough for it to be taken either way, potentially an attack on those who believe in vengeance for its cleansing, wiping the slate clean nature, while also making a reasonably compelling case exactly for that. After all, wouldn't it have been so much easier for Myra Hindley and Ian Brady to have met their maker for their crimes instead of spending the next almost forty years in prison, respectively yearning to be released and to die? Does anyone truly pay full penance, let alone regret their crimes by spending decades in prison? At the same time, the belief that executing those who have killed somehow solves everything is both a false one, and one which potentially opens the state itself to accusations that it is no better than the murderer themselves.

I admit, despite all these conflicting arguments, to be an anti-capital punishment fundamentalist. It may be because I have never suffered any serious crime, or had one happen to my relatives that I see almost no merit in seeking physical revenge for any slight committed against me. Sure, I hold grudges. I enjoy schadenfreude as much as the next person. I would like nothing better than to see the likes of Fred Phelps, Richard Littlejohn or Mazher Mahmood for example, to get their deserved comeuppance for the hate, lies and fear they've expressed time and again. Yet for them to be killed or seriously injured, rather than just suffer mentally for a short while, or to see the other side of the story that they so ignore is something that I could never condone. I'd love to see Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden answer for their crimes and murderous preaching in a court of law. For them to be blown apart by a laser-guided missile would be poetic justice, but not the kind of justice I could agree with when they could have been captured instead.

So it is with Saddam Hussein. As rumours that his execution is due to take place within hours reach fever pitch, there's a feeling that everything would have been so much easier if the Iraqi people could have beaten him to death with their shoes just like they did his pictures and his statues when the resistance to the US/UK invasion collapsed. Instead, what we've been left with is a deeply flawed trial, which in the circumstances may well have been the best that could have expected, but has not helped Iraq either come together or entirely fall apart. The brutal fact is that life in Iraq now is so much less secure that the imminent demise of their former dictator is unlikely to affect anything at all in the long run; it will raise cheers in the Shia districts for sure, potentially further antagonise the remaining Ba'athists and remnants of the Sunni community which refuse to involve themselves in the governing of the country, but in the long run, nothing is going to be inexorably changed by his death.

Why then is his trip to the gallows so urgent, not counting the legal strictures that have been set down? Why could the other trials still going on or yet to be held not continue to take place? Saddam himself has showed little to no contrition; his apparent suggestion that he and only he should be held accountable for what happened in Dujali was the only thing that has come anywhere close to either an admittance of wrong-doing or an apology. As predicted, Saddam has also prepared the ground for his death to be seen as a martyrdom. Whether this will be accepted by those who opposed him while he was in power as a nationalist socialist is uncertain, but in years to come the nuances may yet fade and appeal to a youth growing up hating America and the West and looking to find someone as a potential hero who did die for the cause, bin Laden and his henchmen not being prepared to sacrifice themselves when they can send their followers instead.

It's not too late for the death sentence to be converted to life imprisonment. This would enable the other trials to finish, perhaps crouched in a more amenable way that adheres to international law, and for full justice for all those who died at the hands of his regime to be served. Who knows, perhaps a truly democratic and free Iraq, one not marred by sectarian bloodshed may yet one day emerge while he remains alive, the one thing that would show that his reign was an illegitimate and brutal aberration that will not be repeated, breaking the man himself. Idealistic and not crouched in realism this may be, but what's wrong with dreaming every once in a while?

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Yet another stain on the West and Western style 'justice'.

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