The Execution of Saddam

THE EXECUTION OF SADDAM….I didn’t get a chance to blog about the execution of Saddam Hussein last week, but Christopher Hitchens revived the subject yesterday in his usual state of high dudgeon:

Did our envoys and representatives ask for any sort of assurances before turning over a prisoner who was being held under the Geneva Conventions? According to the New York Times, there do seem to have been a few insipid misgivings about the timing and the haste, but these appear to have been dissolved soon enough and replaced by a fatalistic passivity that amounts, in theory and practice, to acquiescence in a crude Shiite coup d’etat.

….The timing — isn’t anyone in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad paid to notice this kind of thing? — was explicitly designed to rub every kind of humiliation into Iraqi Sunnis. It profaned their observance of the Eid ul-Adha holiday, while gratifying the Shiite fundamentalists whose ceremonies begin one day later. To have made the butcher Saddam into a martyr, to have gratified one sect, and to have cheated millions of Iraqis and Kurds of the chance for a full accounting — what a fine day’s work!

Was Saddam’s execution a miscarriage of justice? I suppose so, but on the cosmic scale of miscarriages of justice I find myself underwhelmed by this particular example. What did we expect, after all?

More to the point, what did Hitchens expect? I’m pretty willing to criticize just about anything the Bush administration does in Iraq, but did Hitchens seriously expect the United States to refuse to turn over Saddam to the supposedly sovereign government of Iraq after a trial and verdict that we ourselves had condoned? On what grounds? Because of a suspicion that they might not conduct the execution with the same attention to legal niceties that are observed in, say, the great state of Texas? That would have gone over well, wouldn’t it?

Hitchens knows — or should know — exactly what Iraq is like today. The Shiites are in control, and there’s not much we can do to stop them from working their will. The United States has very little leverage or control over events on the ground, and virtually no influence over the sectarian violence, something that our acquiesence in the tawdry execution of Saddam merely confirms. I can’t say whether Hitchens is genuinely surprised by this or just feigning it, but it’s rather spectacularly unconvincing either way.