Charles Krauthammer
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WASHINGTON -- Of the 6 billion people on this earth, not one killed more people than Saddam Hussein. And not just killed, but tortured and mutilated -- doing so often with his own hands and for pleasure. It is quite a distinction to be the pre-eminent monster on the planet. If the death penalty was ever deserved, no one was more richly deserving than Saddam Hussein.

For the Iraqi government to have botched both his trial and execution, therefore, and turned monster into victim, is not just a tragedy, but a crime -- against the new Iraq that Americans are dying for, and against justice itself.

In late 2005, I wrote about the incompetence of the Saddam trial and how it was an opportunity missed. Instead of exposing, elucidating and irrefutably making the case for the crimes of the accused -- as was done at Nuremberg and the Eichmann trial -- the Iraqi government lost control and inadvertently turned it into a stage for Saddam. The trial managed to repair the image of the man the world had last seen as a bedraggled nobody pulled cowering from a filthy hole. Now coiffed and cleaned, he acted the imperious president of Iraq, drowning out in the coverage seen around the world the testimony of his victims.

That was bad enough. Then comes the execution, a rushed, botched, unholy mess that exposed the hopelessly sectarian nature of the Maliki government.

Consider the timing. It was carried out on a religious holiday. We would not ordinarily care about this, except for the fact that it is in contravention of Iraqi law. It was done on the first day of Eid al-Adha as celebrated by Sunnis. The Shiite Eid began the next day, which tells you in whose name the execution was performed.

It was also carried out extra-constitutionally. The constitution requires a death sentence to have the signature of the president and two vice presidents, each representing the three major ethnic groups in the country (Sunni, Shiite and Kurd). That provision is meant to prevent sectarian killings. The president did not sign. Maliki contrived some work-around.

True, Saddam's hanging was just and, in principle, nonsectarian. But the next hanging might not be. Breaking precedent completely undermines the death penalty provision, opening the way to future revenge and otherwise lawless hangings.

Moreover, Maliki's rush to execute short-circuited the judicial process that was at the time considering Saddam's crimes against the Kurds. He was hanged for the killing of 148 men and boys in the Shiite village of Dujail. This was a perfectly good starting point -- a specific incident as a prelude to an inquiry into the larger canvas of his crimes. The trial for his genocidal campaign against the Kurds was just beginning.

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Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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