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Saddam's death penalty

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Saddam's death sentence has been upheld by an Iraqi appeals court, which, at least in theory, means the sentence should be carried out within 30 days. I think the country might be served by trying him for the other crimes he's been charged with, but the conviction and sentence for crimes against humanity (the mass killing of 148 men and boys in Dujail) clearly mandates this result.

I have no problem with Saddam being executed -- he is certainly a criminal of the highest order, the trial was generally considered fair, and, perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of Iraqis favor it. I also am personally unopposed to the death penalty in theory (though I'm often opposed to it in practice because of how it's applied), believing that there are some crimes which are so terrible that death at the hands of the state is the only appropriate punishment. Still, I also strongly feel that the death penalty is something about which reasonable people can disagree. I have no problem with a broad anti-death penalty stance, and I think it's a morally and intellectually defensible position.

What I don't understand, though, is how someone can claim to be opposed to the death penalty . . . but in favor of it for Saddam. TNR's Marty Peretz manages to pull off this feat while denigrating those who are morally opposed to the death penalty. It's classic TNR, actually: claim to take a position, then immediately contradict that position, and then slam people who agree with the originally-claimed position for being wussies.

In fact, Peretz's post has more than one of the things the rest of us learned to avoid in freshman logic (or ethics or philosophy or whatever): flip-flopping on a position in the span of two sentences, a knee-jerk comparison to the Nazis, and ad hominem attacks. Italian Prime Minister Prodi, who opposes the death penalty in all cases, has reasonably applied this viewpoint to Saddam. Peretz ridicules him, writing:

I don't believe in capital punishment either. Did Prodo believe the death sentence for Adolf Eichmann also wrong? I didn't. Even if Saddam is not exactly in the category of Eichmann, he -- like Pol Pot and other leaders of deliberately killer regimes -- has no claim on our conscience. What's more there is something prissy and finicky in Prodo [sic] if Saddam's fate can touch his soul.
Again, I'm perfectly fine with Saddam being executed, but to label someone "prissy and finicky" for their principled opposition to the death penalty should be beneath a "serious" person. And when it's ridicule for a position that the commenter claims to share, it's absurd.

In any case, there will be speculation about how this will change things in Iraq, with some talking heads warning of an uprising in response and others claiming it will be a turning point towards mass healing and reconciliation. I predict, as I usually do with alleged "turning points," that it won't make much difference at all. The conflict in Iraq long ago moved past Saddam, and while there will certainly be some demonstrations after he's executed (celebration from Kurds and Shia, which you'll see plenty of on your TV; protests from Sunnis, which you won't) and perhaps some associated violence, it will be a just punishment that doesn't do much to help the nation.

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