September 8, 2007

The Death Sentence of Saddam Hussein

Iraq: The Death Sentence of Saddam Hussein
By: Michael Connors
Wednesday 8 November 2006
New Matilda

Imagine the words being delivered: ‘Death by hanging.’

On hearing these words your body speaks for itself, unmediated by language — its life force races around, dizzying and nauseous. Even if language has evolved through the millennia, its basic messages have remained the same: love, lust, guilt, fear, joy and death. And the most physical emotions are still borne by blood through our veins.

No one whose sense of justice remains could be unmoved by the now weak man hiding behind defiance, who makes his fear and trembling a rallying call for Iraqis to unite against the infidel occupier. Saddam Hussein is a man who may inspire ridicule and revenge, and surely is worthy of both. But these are not the motives of the Law.

What does a man who occupied palaces, who took the life of others as casually as a butcher dresses carcasses, and who looked upon his own people with the contempt of an unbeliever — what does such a man think upon hearing his death pronounced? How does a man who acted as god, deal with the higher god of Law? Does he remember for a moment the fear of those who died at his command? Does he imbibe his own sense of heroism and entertain the conceit of rescue by an outraged insurgency? Does he realise that just as he lived by the banality of evil, so he shall die?

Does Saddam visit the metaphorical grave of those he buried — the husbands, the wives, the gay lovers, the children of others? All of them — decomposed, silent and unknown — have been resurrected in court testimony, their names uttered in public. Those whom he disposed of have returned to pronounce his own death sentence. That such rotten flesh should bring me down!

As he tosses and turns in his hygienic cell, do the germs of the past taunt him? Or does he, a murderer, take what he has done and give it another meaning, placing it in national narratives of salvation? I did it for the greater good. And how different, then, is he from others, who have killed for the sake of a nation?

Like people the world over who were murdered for ‘reasons of State,’ those who Saddam killed have unmarked graves. The exact moment of their death is recorded in the executioner’s mind alone. At the moment of knowing what was coming, what did they think? Why were some calm to the end? Why, knowing that this walk to the open grave was their last, did they not run or walk further? What secret does this reveal — knowing, a gun to our head, that we resign ourselves. Did they ever imagine death like this? A bullet in the head, sand in the mouth, gas in the lungs. And did they forget their rage at the murdering machine before them, and move their final thoughts to kinder things — of love and family, of the good things they had done?

To murder a person is, in part, to take memory out of its rightful place, and slice it up. It is to give everyone who remains an ending that colours their beginning. It is to announce that life may be taken unnaturally, and so to say that tragedy is both random and natural.

He — and I will not use his name further for he is many people — may have taken many lives. And now others, in an ancient ritual of justice, have been called on to take his life in kind, as if justice could be weighed. As if the man, who was but a boy, who was but a man, who sucked the life force from others, could ever account for his deeds by forfeiting that which is common to all living beings. His death, as insignificant as any other death, will have meaning because of the seal of justice pronounced in death.

For all that he has done, he does not deserve to die by hanging or by any other State-orchestrated means. For, in taking his life, we are saying that for ‘reasons of State’ lives may be taken — which is exactly how he saw the issue.

Imagine a better justice, where a man who took the beautiful lives of others is spared his own life as a testament to a better morality.

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