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Thank God for Constancy

Saddam Hussein, if I can put this lightly enough so as to reflect both the fact of the matter and the fact’s gravity without turning off gainsayers, is a man whose whims have caused the deaths of many thousands of people, that number reaching by a preponderance of the estimates into the one-hundred-thousands. Before one even begins to countenance the question of the death penalty, one can confess that Hussein has forfeited his life, can’t one?

Well, I can. You are reading the words of someone who, given his druthers, would amend the United States code to include a prohibition on capital punishment. (I am a small government kind of guy.) But there is something distinctly ratty about arguing, now on the eve of his death, that Saddam Hussein should not be hanged by the very countrymen he made his whipping post for three decades. The Iraqis by and large would like for Hussein to die. The only ones left rallying for him are his employees, and they are now few in number. Just enough to abduct and ransom a few judges’ children. No, what walks, talks, and quacks like justice is about to be served in Baghdad, in just about twenty-four hours.

We are never permitted to long keep separate criminal lives like Hussein’s and the political questions surrounding them. Here, the Global War on Terrorism and the death penalty. Considering the latter, it is interesting to observe different countries’ official statements on Hussein’s sentencing. Most of the nations apt to niggle in this matter are the sort which themselves are evangelically opposed to the death penalty. Let us turn to the Deutsche Welle newspaper. A reporter there has done the work of gathering up Europe’s responses to the death verdict. Are you sitting down?

Europe doesn’t like the death verdict. Each in their kind crafted a statement making two points. First, that the death penalty is wrong, and second, but who are we to judge. Thomas Steg, speaking for Germany, stressed that his state is “categorically opposed to the death penalty,” but that the trial was fair. If you can ignore the strange sentence construction, here is what he said: “There is nothing to indicate the trial, including the appeals process, did not take place in accordance with the rule of law and legal principles in operation in Iraq.”

As for Britain, a foreign office spokesman in London told the Agence France-Presse that “Our position is unchanged. We are opposed to the death penalty as a matter of principle, but the decision is one for the Iraqi authorities.” France, Deutsche Welle reports, “reacted similarly,” by “voicing its opposition to capital punishment, but saying…the decision to execute Saddam should be left up to the Iraqi people and the sovereign authorities in Iraq.”

Massimo D’Alema, speaking for Italy, said he was concerned the execution could have negative consequences and that “[a]s an Italian and as a European I am against the death penalty.” But no plea to Iraq. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said Denmark “supports the establishment of a democracy and an independent judicial system in Iraq. But we do not support the death penalty.”

That’s a taste of the quality of nations’ responses to the sentencing. But I’ve missed but one. This last does not come from a state government at all, but rather from the Holy See, a non-state actor with no territorial sovereignty but with international agency. (One perhaps wishes it had more sway: It is the only European actor which recognizes Taiwan.) The Vatican, pro life to the last, is the only actor outrightly condemning the death penalty Cardinal Renato Martino has said, simply, that he hopes Hussein’s life will be spared.

Now, the Vatican’s constancy isn’t always right or even sensible. It is uniformly against war, and maintains that position even as an aggressively imperialist religion mobilizes against Christendom and everything it has birthed and built. But, God, is it noble.


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