Monday, November 06, 2006

Sentenced to Hang

Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to hang. Unsurprisingly, his Sunni cosectarians were none too happy about that, and the Shiites rejoiced. Saddam's sentence is automatically appealed, as it is a death sentence. (On a separate note, one of the codefendants, who received a sentence of life imprisonment, has also had his sentence automatically appealed.) Europeans will surely not like this; the issue of capital punishment has been resolved, for the foreseeable future, in the negative. However, for much of the world, this seems to be appropriate punishment. In fact, by Iraqi standards, the transparency of the trial is unprecedented.

Some argue that the sentence should be void because the entire trial was a kangaroo court, or at the very least lacked jurisdiction. However, the symbolism of the proceedings, and their educational value, may in a sense be more important here. Had the trial taken place in the United States, there would be much made of due process. American law also tends to differentiate between moral culpabilities involved in crimes by differentiating between the charges. Hence, the differences between involuntary vehicular manslaughter and first degree murder. The different charges open up different levels of punishment. In the Saddam case, the primary issues seem to be causation and punishment. That is, did Saddam effectuate the crimes of which he has been accused, and how harsh should the punishment be?

There is no doubt a long litany of accusations against Saddam, for offenses perpetrated by his regime. While it seems likely that he authorized the carrying out of these crimes, it does not seem beyond reason that one or two incidents were not explicitly or implicitly authorized by him, and that his culpability may only be to the extent to which he overlooked them. For such incidents, he is still accountable, but it is arguable that the death penalty is not a proportionate response.

Of course, the final arbiters of proportionality must be Iraqi. It would seem unrealistic that a majority, much less a supermajority, of Iraqis would approve of the death penalty. I doubt that any debate about it within Iraq would be all that controversial; indeed, the soul-searching seems mostly to be among intellectuals of the West. Many of a liberal bent reject both crimes against humanity, as well as the death penalty, for similar reasons (many of which find their roots in liberal Christianity, ironically). In the case of Saddam, they may be forced to compromise one or the other value.

Or, of course, they can try to sidestep the issue by hanging on to the claim that the entire war was illegal to begin with. That's another discussion altogether, and raises legitimate points of controversy. But it does not resolve the question of, "Now that we're here, what do we do?"


Anonymous said...

The customary international law rule used to be just shooting/hanging the war criminals. Then after WWII, at Nuremberg, Roosevelt proposed a novel and unprecedented idea: put these guys on trial and then we'll shoot/hang them. Thank you, international law class. It's a good class.

From the girl who was talking to you about Korean food the other day. I prefer to remain anonymous.

Bruce said...

I didn't know Roosevelt managed to live past 1945. :)

Did you find the Korean food you wanted?