The life of one of the most notorious dictators of the past twenty years ended just after ten o’clock Friday night, courtesy of the “short drop and sudden stop” of the hangman’s noose.
The Beginning of the End
Once a free-spending, extravagantly-living, ruthlessly brutal ruler of a rogue nation, Saddam Hussein’s world was turned upside down in March 2003, when a US-led coalition of 39 nations provided the “serious consequences” called for by the United Nations after Iraq was found to be in “material breach” of the world body’s Resolution 1441, the seventeenth UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) he had willfully violated since the Persian Gulf War.
Saddam’s repeated flaunting of the world body’s impotence to enforce any of its resolutions had prompted no fewer than thirty UN Security Council Presidential Statements condemning Iraq’s repeated UNSCR violations - all of which were offered while members of the world body were working with Saddam to circumvent economic sanctions, and to personally profit from the corruption of the "Oil-for-Food" program.
On the Run
Within three weeks of the allied invasion, Baghdad had fallen, the world had seen the statues of Saddam being toppled, and the dictator himself, who had only averted death on the eve of the war due to the lack of timely command approval for a bombing mission targeting his safe house, was on the run, moving from hideout to hideout, in fear of his life at all times, and narrowly missed on several occasions by allied bombs.
He was still in hiding on July 22, 2003, when his monstrous sons Uday and Qusay were killed in Mosul by the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and members of a classified Joint Special Operations Task Force, ending his male hereditary line, and stamping out his genetic legacy of brutality, which Qusay had upheld with his merciless slaughter of political prisoners, and which Uday had carried on with a gruesome flair which had even, at times, shocked his murderous father.
Ladies and gentlemen, we got him."
Though the thought of Saddam defiant and uncaptured remained a source of hope to remaining Baathists fighting against the US and the fledgling Coalition Provisional Authority, the situation changed completely on December 13, when the mighty Butcher of Baghdad, who had ruled Iraq with an Iron Fist since 1979, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own countrymen, and who had repeatedly faced the Great Satan of the West and fearlessly refused to back down, was found hiding in a tiny “spider hole,” alone, powerless, pathetic, afraid, and cowering.
Saddam was apprehended from his final hiding place by the 4th Infantry Division, along with members of a classified Joint Special Operations Task Force. As he was pulled from the hole, he uttered the now famous words of surrender: “I am Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq. I want to negotiate.”
The soldiers replied: "President Bush sends his regards."
There was surprise on the part of some 4th ID soldiers to the cowardly, docile attitude of Saddam when he was finally captured. “There it was. It wasn't the blaze of glory we expected,” said Army Capt. Desmond Bailey.
The Mother of all Trials
The trial that resulted in Saddam’s conviction seemed, to the outsider, to be a series of stops and starts, replete with dictatorial defiance on the part of the lead defendant and sound bytes from Ramsey Clark, noted “peace” activist, former US Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson, and former defense attorney for Slobodan Milosevic, who served as a member of Saddam’s defense team. The charges involved – the 1982 killings of 148 Iraqis in the small town of Dujail – were not as catchy or as interest-piquing as the subject of his future trials, which were to be for such things as the killing of countless Shiites in the 1970s and 80s, the 1988 gassing of thousands of Kurds in Halabja, the disappearing – and executing – of up to 182,000 people (mostly men, but including many women and children) in Anfal in the same year, the 1991 slaughter of thousands of Shiites and Kurds after their post-Gulf War uprisings, and the 1999 killing of students who demonstrated against the regime in Najaf.
The trial itself, though not without flaws, was carried out both openly and effectively, despite the claims of such “human rights” organizations as Human Rights Watch (HRW) that the trial was “so flawed its verdict was unsound.” Perhaps HRW particularly enjoys condemning affairs in which the US is involved, though they in comparison to the actual human rights abuses around the world, because they, like the UN (both of whom have nothing but words and suggestions to offer), know that, of all the world’s nations, America will actually listen to what they have to say. Regardless, HRW, which had condemned Saddam repeatedly in the past, seems, characteristically, to have all too short a memory – especially regarding the lack of “free, fair, and flawless” trials Saddam offered to his hundreds of thousands of individual human victims.
Saddam has now paid the highest price that can be exacted from him for all of his crimes, having been convicted of the murders for which he first stood trial, and having had his expedited sentence – death – carried out.
Nearly 2,000,000 Dead...
There is little question that Saddam deserved his fate.
"It's a very solemn moment for me," Feisal Istrabadi, Iraq's deputy U.N. ambassador said Friday night. "I can understand why some of my compatriots may be cheering. I have friends I can think of who have lost 10, 15, 20 members of their family, more.
"But for me, it's a moment really of remembrance of the victims of Saddam Hussein."
And the number of those victims is staggering. Istrabadi estimated the total number killed during Saddam’s rule to be nearly two million people, from the mass killings of Shiites, Marsh Arabs, and Kurds, to the Iraqis killed in the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars. “Up until April of 2003,” he said, “Saddam was still having people murdered, and filling mass graves with bodies.”
“Saddam was very fond of Josef Stalin,” added Istrabadi, saying that the dictator had sought to emulate the killer of 27 million of his own countrymen in his own rule – a fact that was borne out by the number of Iraqis who perished during Saddam’s purges, slaughters, and temper tantrums.
The fact that Saddam was executed before he could also stand trial for those more massive slaughters has a downside. The number “148” is not nearly as imposing as the hundreds of thousands of deaths for which he was to be tried, and lends itself to much greater sympathy from those infected with the infamous BDS (“Bush Derangement Syndrome”), who wish to equivocate for Saddam, and to condemn the elected President of the United States for being a worse killer than this deposed dictator, now that they have a number of Saddam’s victims to parrot. However, the openness and relative expedience with which the proceedings were carried out provided the correct verdict, and it is possible that the carrying out of the sentence could not have come at a better time for Iraq.
Iraq Still on the Brink, but With One Less Killer
Then again, it is also possible that Saddam's execution could not have come at a worse time. With sectarian violence still raging, insurgents scoring their daily kills, and America still awaiting the release of President Bush’s new Iraq plan, the situation in the troubled country is both unstable and incendiary, and a significant increase in violence as a result of the former tyrant’s death, should it fail to be prevented, could be a catalyst in pushing the ailing nation over the edge.
Had it happened last year, or in 2004, Saddam’s execution might have sent a strong statement about the direction Iraq was headed in, and it is possible that it could have served as a rallying point for the fledgling Iraqi government, its army, and for anti-Ba’athist, anti-Saddam Iraqi nationalists, helping energize the nation and propel it in the right direction.
That result is still possible, however unlikely. A significant increase in violence – as a direct result of this action – is similarly unlikely. Though there has been dancing in the streets and celebratory gunfire on the part of most Iraqis – and the threat of violent reprisal, particularly against the US, by Sunnis – the most likely effect that the Saddam execution will have on Iraq, and on America, will be to provide the following: a brief moment of celebration or of rage, a subject for a few days of media coverage, an opportunity for encouraging words on the Iraqi justice system (along with threatening words to Saddam’s fellow dictators, who may or may not take serious note), and, of course, the inevitable rage from the dictator-loving Left, whose more extreme elements have already gone on record saying that the noose would have been better used on those “real war criminals” named Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, despite the fact that the heroic military which they have led is a rigid observer of human rights (yes, it’s true!), and takes the greatest care of any in the world to avoid, at all costs, the killing of the innocent.
On a personal note, beyond all of that, as someone who has been to Iraq, and who – along with plenty of others who served – has seen the mass graves and the torture chambers with his own eyes, and has met men whose children have been murdered, wives and daughters raped, and limbs removed by Saddam’s underlings simply for their day’s entertainment, I can unequivocally say the following: Saddam’s execution provides an opportunity for a sigh of relief from actual lovers of humanity – not façades like HRW and others – that such a murderous criminal will never again harm another human being. And that is always a good thing.
“In the last analysis, he seemed not terribly brave.”
Saddam died much in the way that he was captured, and not at all in the way that he lived. As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said when Saddam was captured:
"Here was a man who was photographed hundreds of times shooting off rifles and showing how tough he was, and in fact, he wasn't very tough, he was cowering in a hole in the ground, and had a pistol and didn't use it and certainly did not put up any fight at all," Rumsfeld said.
"In the last analysis, he seemed not terribly brave," he said.
When facing death, the man who had killed so many during his reign of terror proved not only to be mortal, but to be a coward, as well, fearful of painlessly meeting a fate which had ordered to be inflicted in the most painful ways upon thousands of people in the past.
In the end, the man who had talked so tough, and who was responsible for ordering the torture of so many people, and the end to so many lives, went out, as T.S. Eliot once put it, “not with a bang, but a whimper.”