Arguments Against Death Penalty for Saddam Hussein
We pursue here a logical analysis of the question: Should Saddam Hussein be granted clemency and not executed?
1. Argument from the Nature of a Head of State
It is unseemly to execute a former head of state. It violates the dignity of the office. Regardless of his or her offenses, a head of state represents a nation and is, on that basis, entitled to a certain level of additional respect. It is the office, not the person, that is so respected.
Respect for the office derives from the respect for the people who are represented, and for the principle of government itself, which is a noble enterprise, separates us from the animals, and is the cause of much that is positive in human affairs.
In the course of duties as head of state, a leader might engage in behaviors that are later judged or seen to be illegal, inhumane, or criminal. However the question will always remain about the extent to which these were actions undertaken at the leader’s personal initiative and own selfish ends only, or how much these actions expressed the political aims of a group or faction of the public, whether a majority or a minority.
It is seldom, if ever, the case that a tyrant remains in office without the compliance of the public. What then, shall we do in the name of Justice? Shall we execute the leader’s advisers? Shall we execute all members of factions or interest groups that actively supported the despot? What of those who gave indirect support by their silence and inaction? Where is the line to be drawn?
2. Argument from the Principle of ScapegoatingFor as far back as there is recorded history we may witness the rise and fall of despots; how they are first supported by a populus that knows (or ought to know) full well his intentions and likely actions. The pattern–which we may see for example repeatedly in ancient Rome–is to tolerate or encourage a despot; then, when the cynical and selfish aims which benefit the country or faction are met, the tyrant is unceremoniously deposed and killed.
The tyrant is at first the designated agent of genocide or criminal intent, acting out the motives of the collective “shadow” of the majority or the political faction. He then becomes the scapegoat by which the others try to purge their own guilt. All this the devil of human malice views with relish and satisfaction.
3. Argument from the Possibility of United States Compliance
Let us further examine the possible contributing role of the United States. Is it not true that the United States supported Hussein in his early years of power; that the US was only too glad to have a political strong man holding together Iraq as a counterbalance to Iran and Saudi Arabia; that the US supplied many arms to Iraq; that some of these same arms were used by him against his people; and that, because Hussein was hostile to Iran, the support continued despite obvious human rights violations?
So is not the US in some way partly complicit–though admittedly in an indirect way, but complicit nonetheless–in some of Hussein’s crimes?
4. Argument from the Natural Repugnance of Capital Punishment
This argument is familiar and need not be elaborated upon. It is simply that to take a human life unnecessarily is :
a. morally wrong
b. counterproductive and paradoxical: if one wishes to prevent future murders, genocide, violence, etc., that is done by establishing and promoting respect for human life.
But killing when it is not necessary–especially when there is a plainly emotional component to the killing–exemplifies, reinforces, and perpetuates the very things that capital punishment seeks to oppose and end.
5. Argument from Opportunity of Positive Precedent
We profess a wish to affirm peace, goodness, virtue, respect, and nonviolence as a way of life. If that is truly our aim, then we have a unique and ideal opportunity to further it in the granting of clemency to Saddam Hussein. He could be sentenced to life imprisonment, for example.
This would be an act of singular and decisive historical importance. It would announce to the world (and to ourselves): No more of this barbarous violence! No more of this hideous cruelty of man against man! It is this we hate, not a single person.
Objection 1: What of the Victims of Hussein’s Cruelty?
Reply. We must not neglect to consider the innocent victims. Would that we could bring them back to life, or to compensate their families for their suffering. Alas, we cannot do the former. The latter is a possibility–but who is suggesting that? If that is the goal, would not our attention and efforts be better directed to that than to Hussein’s trial and public ridicule?
Objection 2: What of Others Convicted and Sentenced to Execution for Lesser Crimes?
Reply. The argument above concerning capital punishment generally applies to all so sentenced, and implies that we should suspend the death penalty generally. That is already the case in many or most nations.
Objection 3: To Suggest Such a Thing Shows Weakness and Cowardice
Reply. Our true enemy is human malice, which preys upon the human soul. Let us seek out and destroy this, our true enemy. That is what takes real courage, fortitude, determination, etc. To prop up a dictator when expedient (as in doing the dirty work of special interest groups), and then execute him when that it is expedient–that is cowardice.
Objection 4: He Does Not Deserve Mercy.
Reply. It is the very nature of mercy that it is extended to those undeserving. If you seek mercy yourself, if you have ever received mercy, if you will seek it in the future: extend it to others. “Blessed are the merciful.”
All lines of analysis here support the conclusion that clemency should be extended to Saddam Hussein.
I append to these comments this link concerning the comments of Vatican official, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
December 28, 2006
John Uebersax PhD