Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dealt With as Wolves Are

Of the 6 billion people on this Earth, not one killed more people than Saddam Hussein. And not just killed but tortured and mutilated -- doing so often with his own hands and for pleasure. It is quite a distinction to be the preeminent monster on the planet. If the death penalty was ever deserved, no one was more richly deserving than Saddam Hussein.

Charles Krauthammer “The Hanging: Beyond Travesty.” Washington Post, Friday, 5 January 2007, p. A17.

The last topic that day [at Yalta] was the treatment of war criminals. At Teheran, Stalin had proposed taking 50,000 Germans and shooting them without trial. Churchill, who had been so offended by this at the time that he had walked out of the room in protest, now said that a list of war criminals would be drawn up and those on the list brought to trial, though personally he was inclined to feel that ‘they should be shot as soon as they were caught and their identity established.’ Stalin, hitherto an advocate of summary executions, now claimed to favour the judicial process. Roosevelt commented that it should not be ‘too judicial’; journalists and photographers should be kept out ‘until the criminals were dead’.

Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life, p. 821 (Henry Holt,1992).

proscription, the publication of a notice, especially. . .(2) a list of Roman citizens who were declared outlaws and whose goods were confiscated. . .The proscribed were hunted down and executed in Rome and throughout Italy by squads of soldiers, and the co-operation of the victims' familes and slaves and of the general public was sought by means of rewards and punishments. . .The sons and grandsons of the proscribed were debarred from public life. . .The impression left was profound. . .

Hornblower and Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, p. 1260 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003, p. 1260).

It was a proscription notice, bearing the Royal seals and signatures, describing the individuals’ crimes, and ending with an identical proclamation: to be cast out from all protection of law; declared to be among the enemies-general of humankind, to be dealt with as wolves are.

Jerry Pournelle, S.M. Stirling, Prince of Sparta: A Novel of Falkenberg’s Legion (Baen Books, 1993, p. 281) (Roman type originally in Italics).

The dust has settled a little from Saddam Hussein’s execution by the Iraqi authorities, and it seems like an appropriate time to close the books on the subject of the Bad Man’s demise, although the effects of the chaos and misery of which the dictator was the author will be felt long after all of us are dead.

There have been complaints by lots of people who should know better that the processes surrounding Saddam’s trial and execution were less than Harvard Law School perfect. Charles Krauthammer, (for whom I have the greatest respect), joins them in the column quoted above, calling the execution a “. . .a rushed, botched, unholy mess that exposed the hopelessly sectarian nature of the Maliki government.” Perhaps. Mr. Krauthammer calls the proceedings “beyond travesty.” Viewed as a legal and judicial proceeding, of course it was; but it was bound to be, because it mistakenly commingled law and politics.

I normally agree with Mr. Krauthammer, but I have no sympathy with Mr. Krauthammer’s views on Saddam's death. I would agree that the tape of the hanging shows that the police and security organs of the new Iraqi government are definitely in need of a purge, and that many so-called Iraqi policemen ought to find themselves in the dungeons formerly occupied by Saddam and his henchmen – and their victims – or else in hastily dug ditches next to Mr. Saddam’s corpse. But this is in order to create reliable and obedient coercive instruments in the hands of the new government, and has nothing whatever to do with Saddam.

Perhaps I’m less troubled by vaporings on the moral and legal problems surrounding the trial and execution of Saddam because I’ve never thought the creation of “democracy” had anything to do with the war in Iraq. Due process for Saddam ? What foolishness ! Saddam got more due process than he gave thousands of others – much more, in fact than he deserved.

I don’t have much use for trials such as Saddam got, because, to begin with, they are victor’s justice dressed up in the sheep’s clothing of legal proceedings. No, my brothers, I’m not going softy-lefty, give me a second. Saddam unquestionably enjoyed the fairest trial and execution in Iraqi history, but Iraq as it exists is not a law-based state, and is not going to be for some time. Democracy in Iraq remains, and will remain, a chimera.

On some moral cosmic justice plane, Saddam no doubt got what was coming to him: but the whole result was foreordained, because Saddam lost the war - and Saddam of course knew it. Saddam’s death was not about cosmic justice: it was politically useful and necessary for the Iraqis and for the United States, and that’s all there was to it. I’ll say this for the Bad Man: much as he deserved his fate, and deserved the squalid process by which he met it – he died very well.

In general, show trials for Saddam and his ilk are somewhat useful for educating other tyrants as to the fatal and humiliating consequences of crossing Uncle Sam, and for allowing aggrieved Iraqis and others to have some revenge and see Mr. Big Get His, (which stores up other problems for later). But the whole transaction was, fundamentally and necessarily, a demonstration of power, and not properly a judicial proceeding. Does anybody really think the Iraqis were not going to kill Saddam ? The killing of Saddam was politics, not law. It could not be anything else.
In general, I don’t approve of handing Saddams over to tribunals, or to the “judicial process,” a la Nuremberg. Disposition of vanquished enemies is a political matter. As Winston Churchill recognized, when the Americans came up with the Nuremburg trial idea, such proceedings give the lawyers and other chatterers too much self-importance, and create bad precedent and problems for the victors in the future.
Mind you, the people arraigned at Nuremberg then, and in Iraq now -- were wolves who needed killing – but far better to simply shoot persons like Saddam, Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, and Osama Bin Laden (one fine day), immediately and out of hand, once they’re dragged out of whatever hole they crawled into. But if you think the end of Saddam was about, or could in any way be about – law -- then you’re deluding yourself.


louielouie said...

my apology for smearing such a forceful essay with a question.
what i got from the show trial and hanging was the symbol from dr. zhivago regarding the killing of the czar. why kill him? to show that there is no going back.
what i am getting from your essay is that S/H should have been taken out in back and shot, or for that matter shot in the rat hole in which he was found. in general, something to please the self important legaleese, of which you obviously have little regard.
now my latin was memorized prayers at the foot of the altar. but i can read what is on all those basilicas. does not your site say something to the effect of crowning victory with law? and if so, is this not how that should be applied?

El Jefe Maximo said...

Yeah, you got most of it.

The quotation is, more or less
"Roman this is your calling, (and these thine arts), remember by your strength to rule Earth’s peoples.
To pacify, to impose the rule of law,
To spare the conquered, battle down the proud."

Virgil [Publius Vergilius Maro] (70–19 B.C.), Aeneid, Book 6.

An even looser translation (from the internet)
"But, Rome, 't is thine alone, with awful sway,
To rule mankind, and make the world obey,
Disposing peace and war by thy own majestic way;
To tame the proud, the fetter'd slave to free:
These are imperial arts, and worthy thee."

Damn ain't that something ? I love the Aeneid.

The rule of law does not appear -- it is imposed. First you make war and then rule. You have to wage war till the haughty are brought low. Once you've burned Carthage and held the triumph, and the locals get the idea, only then you can bring in the merchants, the lawyers and the chattering Forum advocates.

There's a time for trials and lawyers, but not till the enemy knows he's beaten.

Since the Aeneid is the national epic of the Roman Empire (the early Empire is my favorite period, as opposed to the late Republic)...suppose I'll have to buy the the new Aeneid translation, which is supposed to be pretty good. Virgil was much favored by Augustus...and Augustus stands way, way high in my estimation.

The Romans, BTW, kind of blundered into the imperialism business also. Lots of them were not happy about going into the Empire racket. But reality kind of didn't give them much choice. Us either.