I was just over at red1hols‘s blog in which he discusses Saddam Hussein’s execution at some length; I won’t go into his points here as I wouldn’t do them justice, you can click over and read them for yourself. One of the things he said, though, in a comment was “Although I had meant to include a section in the post about it not only being important for justice to be done, but it needs to be seen to be done.” Choosing to take this literally to examine my own recent experience rather than as it was intended in its context (that justice itself was neither seen nor done in this case), I was prompted to a lengthy monologue on the subject. Here are my comments (with some editing done to “fit” here):
I’ve gone through waves of supporting the death penalty and then not supporting it. Silly as it seems, the film Dead Man Walking gave me a lot to chew over in terms of the criminal’s and his or her family’s side of things. Anyway, I still ended up thinking that the most atrocious crimes really deserved the harshest punishment. That whole “who are we to pass judgment?” argument didn’t really hold water with me for the simple fact that the entire JUDICIAL system is about humans passing judgment and exacting whatever “justice” it sees fit. Degrees of judging seem a bit useless; you can judge me if I jay walk, rob a store, or embezzle money but not if I kill? Or you CAN judge me if I kill, you just can’t pass judgment IF your judging system deems the death penalty a viable course of action. Just doesn’t wash for me.
I’ve since changed my mind because it makes sense to think that if we are to exact justice of this kind and severity, we must watch it be done. And there’s the rub. We all know the horrible crimes against humanity that Saddam Hussein perpetrated, we all know he was a cruel sadistic man, yadda yadda yadda. But when it came around time for his execution, I noticed that none of us (my friends online or off) were elated or even smug about it. We were strangely (for us) silent. Thoughtful. Obviously, we’re not a culture to celebrate death by singing and dancing and shouting in the streets, but this was different. The big bad witch was dead, and we didn’t feel good about it.
Most of the reasons [Simon] stated in [his] post are correct; it was wrong and on so many levels. In some ways, it might have been better for everyone involved had Hussein not been found alive (not saying he should have been purposefully executed in the field once found, but just if he’d died in the course of war.). But that’s not how it happened. Instead we see him hanged. Or we almost see it; here in America, they don’t televize the execution, the closest we see is him standing at the gallows with the noose around his neck. Interesting that he chose not to wear the black hood; I’m rather glad he made that decision. I wonder if he knew we couldn’t bear to watch (although he almost certainly could have)? I wonder if he knew his enemy better than we knew or know ours? I digress.
My change of heart/mind came only a day or so ago when I was searching google video for a music vid and the first thing I saw pop up as “most popular” was the Iraqi version (in other words the full version) video of Saddam Hussein’s execution. I clicked it. I’m human. Morbidly curious. I watched as he was walked up the steps, listened to the jeering taunts in horror (I don’t have to understand them to get the gist of it from situation, tone, and later news reports), and I watched as he neared the gallows, had the noose placed on his neck . . . and then I closed the screen. Quickly. Fearfully. I didn’t WANT to watch it. I didn’t want to bear witness to such a thing. And that is when and how I knew that I really don’t and probably never have supported the death penalty. How ironic that it should take a man my country calls “evil” and a “monster” to teach me that.
Now and at my own blog (therefore hyper aware of my own audience), I almost feel like a traitor for this feeling, this sense of what happened. I hope that it doesn’t offend anyone, but I just can’t be happy about his execution, especially knowing all that we know about the trial, the circumstance, everything. But then, as I’ve illustrated, if part of being in favor of the death penalty means we should be able to watch it carried out, then I’m against it. And maybe with something so serious and final, there should be some sort of inner compass to go by, some way to measure whether or not we are really “for” it. Can we watch? Can we flip the switch? Can we inject the “cocktail”? Can we place a noose over someone’s neck? Release the trap doors? Watch them fall, their neck snap, their body twitch? I can’t. I couldn’t. I didn’t.
I have no picture today.