No Triumph in Saddam's Execution

National Catholic Reporter, January 12, 2007 | Go to article overview
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No Triumph in Saddam's Execution


The toppling statue of Saddam Hussein has become the iconographic marker for the 24/7 TV news outlets of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. But the real symbol of the misadventure in Iraq are the grainy, secretly taken images of the dictator's last moments, the rush to the gallows, the exchanged insults and taunts, the sense of chaos. They are images that won't go well with a triumphal soundtrack.

In fact, there is a diminishing store of archival footage, one imagines, that would fit now with the kind of musical fanfares and displays of military might that served as backdrop for the unquestioning "news" coverage we saw during the early months of the war.

The failure in Iraq goes well beyond mistakes about troop levels and military strategy. Shame has overshadowed triumph the whole length of this miserable undertaking: from the pretense under which we invaded, to Abu Ghraib, to the wholesale unraveling of a society and destruction of its infrastructure, to the sham trial of a dictator, to his execution, more a ritual act of tribal revenge than an act of justice.

The Vatican, which has repeatedly condemned the war, now condemns one of its principal consequences. "Capital punishment is always tragic news, a motive of sadness, even when it's a case of a person guilty of grave crimes," according to a statement released by Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office.

"The execution of the guilty party is not a path to reconstruct justice and to reconcile society. Indeed, there is the risk that, on the contrary, it may augment the spirit of revenge and sow seeds of new violence.

"In this dark time in the life of the Iraqi people," the statement continued, "it can only be hoped that all the responsible parties truly will make every effort so that, in this dramatic situation, possibilities of reconciliation and peace may finally be opened."

Those possibilities appear impossibly remote at the moment. The quick execution of Saddam Hussein short-circuited a legal process that, had it been conducted with any semblance of order, would certainly have included an examination of U.S. willingness, in an earlier era, to supply the dictator with components for chemical weapons. It would certainly have covered U.

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