But this is a case fraught with special circumstances, obviously, and as such, it bears tight scrutiny. This is a case where the practical utility of executing Hussein is at least as important as the symbolism of it all. Everyone at least assumes that a spike in violence will accompany the official announcement of Hussein's death; how much or how long is anyone's guess.
So how many more people should die to accommodate the necessary symbolism of the deed -- one hundred; five hundred; ten thousand? That last is not an unreasonable long-term estimate; dozens of mangled bodies are found on a daily basis as it is. Hussein certainly turned Iraq into a fearful, paranoid charnel house with his brutal, thuggish rule, but he's not the only one in the country capable of it. Now there are many squads of would-be Saddams, not remotely contained or leveraged like the old boss, flawed as that arrangement was.
Would it be worth letting him rot away in prison, old and pathetic, to prevent him from becoming a misbegotten martyr, an artificial rallying point for Sunni insurgents? Does his execution -- by the very people whom he was convicted of murdering, no less -- serve as a Shi'a rallying point, a means for them to overtly assert their power in what was supposed to be a "unified" government?
Again, I have no problem with capital punishment in principle, but the endless fetishizing of it is certainly exhausting to even attempt to defend. I think the principle is elemental in nature -- some motherfuckers simply don't deserve to live, period -- but there is nothing to be gained by allowing the specific subjects of the process to be turned into political totems.
So if Hussein is going to die after all -- in about forty minutes now and counting -- one hopes that at least we have carefully thought through all the practical ramifications of this, what it means for us, what it will mean for the Iraqis, whether it's an inadvertent (or, for that matter, deliberate) show of support for one side over another, something that will automatically translate directly into further lives lost, further bloodshed, further unnecessary pain for people who did nothing wrong in the first place, but are simply written off as collateral damage.
One hopes that we took all that into consideration, but I think we know better than that by now. Iraq has long been a place without hope, and executing Hussein is not going to change that one iota.
Mark Bowden's Atlantic piece from 2002 is still probably the most seminal profile to date on Hussein and his regime.
[Update 9:55PM PST: Well, the deed has been done, and good riddance to the rotten bastard. All we can do now is cross our fingers and hope that other wheels aren't set in motion, and that our actions aren't playing into the direct advantage of a single sect or neighboring power.
I think the most bizarre factoid I heard, just a little while ago on MSNBC, was that Bush was asleep when he was given the news. (This AP article affirms it, about halfway through.) That would have been around 9:00 PM Central at the ol' tumbleweed farm. Nothing quite like this has happened since World War 2, I believe, and the fucking guy still hits the hay at nine o'clock sharp (presumably) knowing what's going on. What the hell is wrong with this guy; is he six years old or something? That perfectly exemplifies the utterly incapable, incurious, unconscionable facade of actual leadership that is personified in Oedipus Tex.
And in the end, at least one of Hussein's former associates was able to keep all his houses -- including the one in Santo Domingo.
Note that the crimes for which Saddam Hussein was just executed were committed in 1982, more than a year before this infamous photo was taken. Did Rumsfeld have direct knowledge of the Dujail massacre? Does anyone seriously think it would have mattered?]