I’m back in Newport, Rhode Island with the Navy for a three week Strategic Leadership and Ministry (SLAM) Course. As I was sitting in my room watching the news the other morning the announcement was made that the trial of Saddam Hussein was over and he was sentenced to die by hanging.
Like most everyone else around the world I was intrigued by these developments. As I watched this former dictator, having the ignominy of being known as the “Butcher of Baghdad,” I was struck by his apparent surprise at the verdict. He seemed to look around for someone to come to his defense while the presiding judge read the sentence. Suddenly realizing he was all alone, he quickly reverted to his modus operandi (MO) of interrupting the judge, showing disrespect for the due process of law, and generally attempting to intimidate everyone in the courtroom. One news commentator even said Saddam’s presence is so intimidating that she was grateful for the protective glass that separated her and her cohorts from Saddam. His aura is nearly tangible.
My thoughts immediately centered on what I perceived would be the likely reaction of folks around the world. Allow me to share some of these with you.
First, some people will (and already have) reacted with horror that this newly formed democratic nation, Iraq, would resort to such a barbaric practice as hanging. Let me ask a question in return. Exactly what form of execution is not barbaric? Or putting it another way, what form of execution would be appropriate? Would a firing squad be preferable? Or an electric chair? Or how about a needle in the arm dripping a life-ending chemical? Would dragging the offender through the streets satisfy? Then there’s the traditional beheading. How about that? Or we could simply chop up the miscreant into little pieces, placing the pieces in a plastic bag for delivery to his family. All of these ways of execution were previously implemented by Saddam against his enemies.
When I was in Babylon, Iraq in 2003, the stories of atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein were chilling. One story that will ever remain with me had to do with Saddam’s occasional visits to this ancient city, a city of biblical antiquity. Saddam would drive through town with his henchmen, pointing to various women and girls that caught his eye. His goons would then forcibly abduct these females for an evening or more of sexual pleasure in his palace. Once he was through with them, these women would have there heads cut off and their bodies thrown into the river where they would then be retrieved by their families.
There was an Iraqi man who worked on the base in Babylon whose mother had disappeared at the hands of Saddam some years earlier. No one knew what happened to her, or why. During my brief visit to Babylon a mass grave was unearthed not far from the base. One of the bodies was that of this man’s mother. She was identified by her dress and by a photograph of one of her sons in her pocket. What was her crime? There was no crime. Saddam simply wanted to make a point. He was sending a message to the residents of Babylon that as a dictator, he could do anything he wanted to them, any time he wanted. He ruled by intimidation. Is it any wonder that the Iraqis were celebrating in the streets upon hearing that their nemesis was now going to be permanently removed from planet earth?
Second, this trial was timed to end 48 hours before the mid-term elections in order to benefit the Republicans running for office, and to help the president’s popularity numbers by highlighting the war on terrorism. These allegations are unfounded primarily because the Iraqi government is controlled by Iraqis – not the United States. Hanging by the neck until dead is the preferred method of execution in Iraq. I would surmise that the United States government would prefer to have Hussein incarcerated for life rather than be executed. A Saddam pathetically languishing behind bars sends a stronger message to other dictators than a dead Saddam who could be painted by his admirers as a martyr or, (gasp!) a saint.
That Saddam was a vicious, hateful man is not to be argued. That he invokes the teachings of Islam when he did not practice that religion underscores his hypocrisy. That he believed he was the embodiment of the ancient caliphs is clearly evident (much as Iran’s Ahmadinejad believes about himself today).
This pitiable figure now faces the end of his life. He will not be missed. Yet, I cannot help but think of him facing death and eternity - a death by hanging. If only he knew the Savior, Jesus, who also died a death by hanging, hanging from a cross. Then he could experience God’s grace and forgiveness. Such a gift is offered even to a wretch like Saddam Hussein.