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The Whole Bloody Thing Was Obscene


The lynching of Saddam Hussein – for that is what we are talking about – will turn out to be one of the determining moments in the whole shameful crusade upon which the West embarked in March of 2003. Only the president-governor George Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara could have devised a militia administration in Iraq so murderous and so immoral that the most ruthless mass murderer in the Middle East could end his days on the gallows as a figure of nobility, scalding his hooded killers for their lack of manhood and – in his last seconds – reminding the thug who told him to “go to hell” that the hell was now Iraq.

“Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it,” Malcolm reported of the execution of the treacherous Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth. Or, as a good friend of mine in Ballymena said to me on the phone a few hours later, “The whole bloody thing was obscene.” Quite so. On this occasion, I’ll go along with the voice of Protestant Ulster.

Of course, Saddam gave his victims no trial; his enemies had no opportunity to hear the evidence against them; they were mown down into mass graves, not handed a black scarf to prevent the hangman’s noose from burning their neck as it broke their spine. Justice was “done”, even if a trifle cruelly. But this is not the point. Regime change was done in our name and Saddam’s execution was a direct result of our crusade for a “new” Middle East. To watch a uniformed American general – despite the indiscipline of more and more US troops in Iraq – wheedling and whining at a press conference that his men were very courteous to Saddam until the very moment of handover to Muqtada al-Sadr’s killers could only be appreciated with the blackest of humour.

Note how the best “our” Iraqi government’s officials could do by way of reply was to order an “enquiry” to find out how mobile phones were taken into the execution room – not to identify the creatures who bawled abuse at Saddam Hussein in his last moments. How very Blairite of the al-Maliki government to search for the snitches rather than the criminals who abused their power. And somehow, they got away with it; acres of agency copy from the Green Zone reporters were expended on the Iraqi government’s consternation, as if al- Maliki did not know what had transpired in the execution chamber. His own officials were present – and did nothing.

That’s why the “official” videotape of the hanging was silent – and discreetly faded out – before Saddam was abused. It was cut at this point, not for reasons of good taste but because that democratically elected Iraqi government – whose election was such “great news for the people of Iraq” in the words of Lord Blair – knew all too well what the world would make of the terrible seconds that followed. Like the lies of Bush and Blair – that everything in Iraq was getting better when in fact it was getting worse – butchery was supposed to have been presented as a solemn judicial execution.

Worst of all, perhaps, is that the hanging of Saddam mimicked, in ghostly, miniature form, the manner of his own regime’s bestial executions. Saddam’s own hangman at Abu Ghraib, a certain Abu Widad, would also taunt his victims before pulling the trap door lever, a last cruelty before extinction. Is this where Saddam’s hangmen learned their job? And just who exactly were those leather-jacketed hangmen last week, by the way? No one, it seemed, bothered to ask this salient question. Who chose them? Al-Maliki’s militia chums? Or the Americans who managed the whole roadshow from the start, who so organised Saddam’s trial that he was never allowed to reveal details of his friendly relations with three US administrations – and thus took the secrets of the murderous, decade-long Baghdad-Washington military alliance to his grave?

I would not ask this question were it not for the sense of profound shock I experienced when touring the Abu Ghraib prison after “Iraq‘s liberation” and meeting the US-appointed senior Iraqi medical officer at the jail. When his minders were distracted, he admitted to me he had also been the senior “medical officer” at Abu Ghraib when Saddam’s prisoners were tortured to death there. No wonder our enemies-become-friends are turning into our enemies again.

But this is not just about Iraq. More than 35 years ago, I was being driven home from school by my Dad when his new-fangled car radio broadcast a report of the dawn hanging of a man at – I think – Wormwood Scrubs. I remember the unpleasant look of sanctity that came over my father’s face when I asked him if this was right. “It’s the law, Old Boy,” he said, as if such cruelties were immutable to the human race. Yet this was the same father who, as a young soldier in the First World War, was threatened with court martial because he refused to command the firing party to execute an equally young Australian soldier.

Maybe only older men, sensing their failing powers, enjoy the prerogatives of execution. More than 10 years ago, the now-dead President Hrawi of Lebanon and the since-murdered prime minister Rafiq Hariri signed the death warrants of two young Muslim men. One of them had panicked during a domestic robbery north of Beirut and shot a Christian man and his sister. Hrawi – in the words of one of his top security officers at the time – “wanted to show he could hang Muslims in a Christian area”. He got his way. The two men – one of whom had not even been present in the house during the robbery – were taken to their public execution beside the main Beirut-Jounieh highway, swooning with fear at the sight of their white-hooded executioners, while the Christian glitterati, heading home from night-clubs with their mini-skirted girlfriends, pulled up to watch the fun.

I suggested at the time, much to Hrawi’s disgust, that this should become a permanent feature of Beirut’s nightlife, that regular public hangings on the Mediterranean Corniche would bring in tens of thousands more tourists, especially from Saudi Arabia where you could catch the odd beheading only at Friday prayers.

No, it’s not about the wickedness of the hanged man. Unlike the Thane of Cawdor, Saddam did not “set forth a deep repentance” on the scaffold. We merely shamed ourselves in an utterly predictable way. Either you support the death penalty – whatever the nastiness or innocence of the condemned. Or you don’t. C’est tout.

© 2006 The Independent

 

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