To summarize my thoughts first expresses in a good, passionate debate over at Olaf's place:
Saddam Hussein was a brutal, ruthless dictator who is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1 million people (including in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88) during his 24 year rule in Iraq. He used torture, assassination, fear and genocidal war crimes to maintain his tenuous hold to power. He deserved the severest punishment for his crimes.
I shed no tears for Saddam.
That being said I cannot support his execution on principle. I am an opponent of the death penalty in all cases. Quite simply I do not trust the state to exercise the power of life and death over citizens, not when there is the possibility of even one innocent man being executed. The death penalty is most often used by brutal dictators like Saddam to oppress and terrorize their people. So I cannot support the death penalty even for Saddam.
You may disagree, and that is your prerogative.
But as Olaf and I got into, I feel that the entire trial and subsequent
Firstly, he was executed for killing the inhabitants of a village in 1982, after an attempted assassination. He was not tried and executed for war crimes committed in the Iran-Iraq War, for gassing the Kurds or for the murders of the Shia and Marsh Arabs after the Gulf War. His secrets and information from that time went with him to the grave, conveniently.
Second, his execution has further destabilized Iraq (if one can imagine Iraq being MORE unstable). The Sunni insurgency now has their martyr. Conspiracy theories saying it was a double and Elvis-like sightings are already coming to light. The Shia have a gloat, a cudgel to pound over the head of the Sunni and secularist in Iraq. The video with sound was brutal and reminiscent of the 1920s American South, and ironically the same brutal techniques used by Saddam himself. 'Good' you say, 'poetic justice'. Well, consider that 3000 Americans have died, 25000 have been wounded and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died to replace Saddam with a group that are the same as him, if not worse. And they are Islamic fundamentalists with close ties to Iran. An emasculated Saddam, in a 6x6 cell with one hour of daylight per day would have been more effective and less inflammatory, a sad old man in a cage, instead of a martyr.
Third, justice for the Iraqi people is not done until those who supported and helped Saddam, through action or omission during his reign are also brought to justice. It is no mistake that Saddam's most heinous crimes occurred for the nearly half of his rule in which he was a US ally. Indeed, it was the US and other western powers that sold him the weapons and gas to commit his crime as well as the SIGINT and satellite intelligence to target those weapons. Prof. Juan Cole has an excellent rundown of Saddam's ties and relations with the US government and the CIA (who had a relationship with him from 1959 up to the Kuwait invasion in 1990). Read these along with Dave and Cheryl's exceptional analysis of the reasons for the current Iraq war in "It Was Always About Oil" Part I and II. Then ask if Saddam is alone in his responsibility for his crimes. Guys like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are up to their eyes in Saddam's crimes as well. And they are the ones supplying the Shia mob with the rope (in fact, Dick Cheney was so concerned about Saddam's crimes, he continued to do business with him while running Haliburton up until the late 90's, in contravention of US law and the UN sanctions. And with Quaddafi in Lybia as well).
So while I dislike Saddam, if he is to suffer the ultimate judgment for his actions, then so should those who created him and enabled his reign of terror. They are just as guilty.
I find it bitterly ironic and telling that many of those that are this week cheering and dancing with delight over Saddam's execution are the same people who openly praised and apologized for Pinochet upon his death. The lessons of Saddam (and Pinochet) should have been that brutal dictators and those that help them will be brought to justice. It should have been that supporting brutal dictators for supposed short-term US national interest is a bad idea in the long term interests of everyone, including the US. Instead it seems to be that brutal dictators can do what they want, as long as they implement favourable, right-wing economic policies and let American companies make lots of money. Oh and aren't "Communists." But cross the US and you get yours.
In the end, the people of Iraq continue to die.
No wonder libertarians compare the state and government to the Mafia...