Yesterday’s execution of Saddam Hussein by hanging brings to a violent end a violent life, and raises many more questions than it answers. What impact will the execution have on the civil war in Iraq andthe suffering of the Iraqis? Why execute him on one of Islam’s most sacred holidays, Eid ul-Adha? Some argue that it is fitting, as he was responsible for many, many deaths of innocent Muslims. Yet, is this not a holiday that celebrates peace, family and forgiveness?

The biggest question Saddam’s demise raises is whether Justice was served. Human Rights Watch has a long track record of criticizing Saddam’s brutal regime, and they also strongly condemn the conduct of the trial and the execution:

Human Rights Watch has for more than 15 years documented the human rights crimes committed by Hussein’s former government, and has campaigned to bring the perpetrators to justice. These crimes include the killing of more than 100,000 Iraqi Kurds in Northern Iraq as part of the 1998 Anfal campaign.

“Saddam Hussein was responsible for massive human rights violations, but that can’t justify giving him the death penalty, which is a cruel and inhuman punishment,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program.

The Iraqi High Tribunal sentenced Saddam Hussein and two others to death in November for the killing of 148 men and boys from the town of Dujail in 1982. The tribunal’s statute prohibits, contrary to international law, the possibility of commuting a death sentence. It also requires that the execution take place within 30 days of the final appeal.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. Increasingly, governments are abolishing the death penalty in domestic law.

“The test of a government’s commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders,” said Dicker. “History will judge these actions harshly.”

Human Rights Watch Press Release, December 30, 2006

The United States and its Iraqi helpers had a chance to demonstrate to the world a “new, improved Iraq” that respects justice and human rights. Not surprisingly that was not accomplished, and the hanging of Saddam now serves as a showcase of what is wrong with the “new” Iraq, and serves as a new focus for the Iraqi resistance. They will proclaim Saddam Hussein a martyr and that will likely lead to more bloodshed in this brutal civil war. That is very tragic.

Personally, if Saddam’s death were to stop the killing of innocent people in Iraq, I would have very little trouble with it. But it’s more likely to escalate the bloodshed precisely because of the terrible way in which the trial was conducted and the way his execution was rushed.

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