Academic journal article Policy Review

On the Disposal of Dictators

Academic journal article Policy Review

On the Disposal of Dictators

Article excerpt

IN BETWEEN HIS defiant court appearances, Saddam Hussein sits in a cell, probably eating a bag of Doritos. He also enjoys Cheetos and Raisin Bran Crunch, at least according to the Pennsylvania National Guardsmen once assigned to him and recently interviewed by Lisa DePaulo for GQ. And despite his being heavily guarded and under constant observation, he seems to have adjusted quite nicely to his new surroundings.

"All his drinks, from milk to water to orange juice, had to be room temperature," writes DePaulo. "He wouldn't eat beef but seemed to like fish and chicken. Salads were acceptable, but only if they came with Italian dressing," which he used to marinate his olives. The guards say at times Saddam would be "singing and dancing a jig, clapping his hands, stomping his feet."

He might as well enjoy it now, for as his trial resumes, Saddam will have to address more serious issues, such as the charge of crimes against humanity. To date, lawyers have formally charged Hussein with responsibility for just one massacre, in the Shiite village of Dujail, dating from 1982 and totaling 143 deaths. But as sources told the Washington Post's Andy Mosher, "the limited scope of the Dujail massacre made it easier to investigate, producing a less complex case than other alleged crimes." Whether he is found guilty of murdering a few hundred or tens of thousands, the penalty undoubtedly will be death.

"The Iraqis will definitely kill him," says Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle Eastern specialist with the CIA and currently a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. As for how, Gerecht points out that "hangings have been common practice in the more modern parts of the Middle East" while official beheadings have become a thing of the past.

But then what?

Should the Iraqi government cremate Saddam's body, scattering his ashes to the four winds, his name never to be uttered again? Perhaps the tribunal could simply bury Saddam intact but in an unmarked grave, his precise whereabouts kept a state secret. Or his corpse could be returned to his family and given a proper burial, turning his plot into a shrine for thousands of sympathizers. Then again, he could be both hanged and decapitated, his torso tossed into a ditch while his head is stuck on a spike in public view for the next several years.

When it comes to dealing with an ex-dictator's body (or that of a war criminal), at some point in time, men have done all of the above and more. But which methods have successfully closed dark chapters in history and which ones have led to public embarrassment or worse? It might be helpful to examine a few historical examples spanning the good, the bad, the ugly, and the just plain bizarre.

The Nazi inner circle

IN THE EARLY hours of October 16, 1946, the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, executed ten men for their roles in Hitler's Third Reich. Convicted of crimes against humanity and crimes against peace, these former high-ranking members of the Nazi regime faced the sentence of death by hanging. As far as formal executions go, the Allies dispatched the ten quite efficiently, in under two hours. Whitney R. Harris, in his remarkable Tyranny on Trial (Southern Methodist Press, 1954), vividly describes the first convict on his way to the gallows, the "white-faced" foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop:

"At eleven minutes past one o-clock in the morning ... [Ribbentrop] stepped through the door into the execution chamber and faced the gallows on which he and the others ... were to be hanged. His hands were unmanacled and bound behind him with a leather thong. Ribbentrop walked to the foot of the thirteen stairs leading to the gallows platform. He was asked to state his name, and answered weakly, 'Joachim von Ribbentrop.' Flanked by two guards and followed by the chaplain, he slowly mounted the stairs. On the platform he saw the hangman with the noose of thirteen coils and the hangman's assistant with the black hood. …

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