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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Topic: Iraq

Another Hamburger at The Washington Post - What to do with Saddam Hussein now...

In an earlier post I made reference to a long, a book-length poem, In a Cold Season by Michael Hamburger, about the trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann. The core premise of the poem was to raise the question of whether it was good for us that instead of six million dead, we now had six million and one dead. What does that make us?

In the Post today we get the same argument from one of their editorial staff.

See Let Saddam Live
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Thursday, December 18, 2003; Page A35

Here's this gist of it:
This column may be the most futile of my long career. I am about to plead for Saddam Hussein's life. I do so not because I have the slightest doubt that he is a killer, responsible for taking the lives of many thousands, but because sparing his life would send a message to the world that judicial death - so often abused - is no longer acceptable.
Well, Cohen goes on to review how the death penalty is already illegal in Europe - in fact, renunciation of it is required for admission to the European Union. Yeah, but they're weasels, of course.

Cohen points out that the Untied States, and Sudan and a few others, still executes children (under 18) and the mentally feeble - and, inevitably, the innocent. We think the death penalty is just fine.

Both sides agree. Bush has said Saddam Hussein should be executed, and Joe Lieberman said so too - Sunday on Meet the Press where Lieberman worried that Hussein might be tried in some venue that didn't allow for the death penalty.

The Brits are getting all wimpy on us - Britain's senior envoy to Iraq, Jeremy Greenstock, unfortunately blurted out this: ''The United Kingdom is against the death penalty. So we would have no part of a tribunal or a process that had the death penalty as one of its penalties.''

Perhaps George can have Tony speak with Jeremy about this. The UK abolished the death penalty in 1964 - but the world has changed, right?

As for Lieberman saying we need this death, Cohen points out that probably most of the Democratic presidential candidates agree. Cohen says, rightly, that in the United States the right of the government to take life is almost universally accepted - if not applauded. Yes, in Europe there is no such consensus. Cultural differences. They remember fascist leaders "legally" executing lots of folks - and they didn't like it much at all. The experience made them into skittish wimps, I guess.

Cohen draws a parallel:
In many ways Iraq was the equivalent of a European totalitarian country. Call it Baathist if you will, but Iraq under Saddam Hussein was essentially fascist, with the death penalty meted out willy-nilly, sometimes for serious crimes, sometimes for trivial infractions such as possession of a cell phone. The Iraqis no doubt expect to treat Hussein as he treated them.

It would be marvelous if they were disappointed.

We can do better than an eye for an eye.

We can establish the principle of limited government that should be so dear to American conservatives such as Bush: Among the things government should not do is take a life.
Ah, this Cohen fellow is swimming against the tide. We all know where this is heading. This Hussein fellow will pay with his life.

Cohen adds that Saddam Hussein will certainly understand why he is being executed: "In his reptilian brain, he will understand. He would have done the same thing himself."

Indeed so.

Footnote: Of course such views have been floating around the blogs for a few days. Here's a long one that begins as follows:
If we really wanted to kick-start democracy and try to narrow the differences between Americans, Europeans and Arabs, the White House could contribute the most immense boost to the whole process by declaring tomorrow, for all to hear: We will not seek, indeed, we will actively oppose, the death penalty for Saddam Hussein.

Of course, George W. Bush is in the White House, so nothing of the sort will be said.

But that's what we should do. Not kill Saddam.
And it goes on for quite a while, building the argument quite logically. As if logic were relevant. "Vengeance may sometimes be sweet, but it is always poisonous. So let's break the circle. Let's set an example with Saddam."

Ain't gonna happen.

Posted by Alan at 21:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 17 December 2003 22:06 PST home

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