Friday, December 29, 2006

The Death of a Tyrant

By this time tomorrow, it is likely that Saddam Hussein will be dead. (No, I don't have any inside information on this. My best guess was that they would execute him last night, but at 0300 all I heard were the helicopters hovering in overwatch for his transition of custody to Iraqi control. If he'd been killed, I think I would have heard a deafening amount of celebratory fire as well).

The enormity of that first sentence throws me for a loss as I write it. Not because I have any moral qualms with the death penalty, at least not in the case of a genocidal dictator. But even as he was exposed as a coward through the circumstances of his capture, photographed in his briefs during his captivity, and revealed to a simple lover of Cheetohs (or Doritos, I forget which), he still seemed a larger than life figure despite these degradations.

There is ultimately no precedent for this, really, a genocidal tyrant being tried and executed for his crimes. (And yes, I recognize that his trial was held under less than ideal circumstances, but it was infinitely fairer than that received by any of his victims). Hitler committed suicide; Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot all died of natural causes (Pol Pot was almost killed by a mob of vengeful Cambodians, but was unfortunately rescued by a group of reporters); and Milosevic died before he could be convicted, although he would have only face a life-sentence for the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo. The closest examples I can think of are Mussolini and Ceaucescu, but even these tyrants were not guilty of crimes any near the scope of Saddam's.

This is not to say that he shouldn't be executed, only that it is an event that seems a bit surreal. And if I feel a sense of uncertainty, imagine how the average Iraqi must feel.

I also wonder how Saddam must feel as he approached his final hours. Will the Iraqis tell him when he is to be executed? If so, will he recognize the finality of it all, or like the First Gulf War and March 2003, will he somehow delude himself into believing it won't actually happen? How does a man with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people, responsible for rape squads and countless acts of torture, as well as the impoverishment of Iraq and destruction of its once vast, ancient marshlands, reflect upon his life? Does he have regrets, or does he look back and think, "Well, I had a really good run of things for about thirty years there. C'est la vie!"?

I have no idea how this will play out amongst Iraqis. Things could get very dicey real quick, although it is not as if Iraqis seem to lack excuses for killing one another or Coalition forces as things are now.