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Saddam’s immorality can be contagious

Indiscriminate death found 5,000 men, women and children during March 1998 when the Iraqi military, under the orders of Saddam Hussein, unleashed a toxic fog of VX, sarin and mustard gas on Halabja, a town of Kurdish civilians.
Among horrors committed by absolutely powerful and absolutely corrupt men, the culling of Halabja ranks with Guernica, the Italian town immortalized by Pablo Picasso after the Luftwaffe bombed it into ruin.
The people of Guernica were under the rule of Generalisimo Francisco Franco who authorized the attack. The people of Halabja were under the rule of Saddam.
In the United States, we expect our government to deliver us from even the very forces of nature. In Iraq, Saddam proved to be a force more devastating and indifferent to the Kurds than flood, famine or plague.
Saddam never stood trial for what happened in Halabja. That atrocity was just the tip of the dagger. His death sentence was based on a mass homicide that was meager in comparison ‘ 150 executions he ordered in another Iraqi town, Dujail.
But when ousting a dictator, it’s important to keep in mind that men do not find themselves wielding such extraordinary power as Saddam Hussein unless they are themselves in some aspects extraordinary.
Saddam was born a peasant in a desert villiage in Iraq but pursued power against long odds with an underdog’s bite that was rabid and ruthless. Among Saddam’s earliest politically significant endeavors was the late 1950s murder of his brother-in-law, a communist. Saddam was a socialist.
During the next 20 years, Saddam became the supreme ruler of Iraq.
But on Dec. 30, 2006, his execution made it clear that Saddam would never again rise to power. With the snap of a rope, his story was over. And with Saddam’s dream ended, Shiite Muslims awakened from a dark period in Iraq’s history, or so the state-run Iraqi television news station Al Iraqiya reported.
And yet in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere, Saddam is being called a martyr.
If one watched the video of Saddam Hussein’s meeting with the gallows knowing absolutely nothing about the dictator, he would appear a hero, resembling a character out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.
Good treatment while in U.S. custody had filled out the Saddam who was gaunt the day U.S. forces pulled him from his spiderhole. He died in clothes better than most live in. With his chin up, he made it easier to slide the noose over his neck, but he made it far more difficult to hang him in an idealogical sense.
Saddam spent most of his life getting more than he deserved, and he sure didn’t deserve a death that will leave him remembered as something far better than he was.
At best, the handling of Saddam’s execution was politically foolish. At worst, it showed a lack of basic morality. One can say that Saddam received more fairness and mercy than he gave his victims. But why should a murderous despot be the yardstick for our morality?
Irony isn’t a strong enough word. Saddam’s execution has ignited global debate on capital punishment even though his guilt is broadly accepted. Innocent people condemned to death have drawn far less attention.
It’s not very difficult to see why.
Saddam’s death will not serve as a deterrent. No warlord in the dark jungles of Africa or in the deserts of the Middle East or wherever else that tyranny prevails will stop and say, ‘That could be me,’ and change their evil ways. If it were that easy, there would’ve been no more dictators after Benito Mussolini and his mistress were publically hung upside down on meat hooks when the Axis powers fell.
And Saddam’s execution didn’t potentially save lives.
In fact, the focus before and after the death sentence was carried out was on how to mitigate the damage it would cause. The fear has always been that Saddam’s hanging would spark sectarian violence and possibly even outright civil war and further loss of life.
The only motive left was vengeance. And based on the conduct of those directly involved in the execution, vengeance was the theme of the day.
Last meals. The opportunity to die with dignity and without suffering. Fair trials. These are not things we do for the benefit of the condemned. They are things we do for society. Society goes on living, and its members are comforted to know that we can be good and just even when confronted by evil men.
For their part, those Americans charged with jailing Saddam treated him with dignity and respect. And for Saddam and his supporters in Iraq, that was punishment.