Monday, January 01, 2007

Execution as pornography

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Sam Leith says:

What we've been seeing over the past couple of days is the pornographisation of a judicial process. There's no question that Saddam's crimes were terrible. There's no question that, however jury-rigged the legal process by which he was held to account for them, it is proper that he was held to account. But our fever of excitement over that hempen rope is no more than the baying of a mob.
And he is right.

There was something shocking about the casual way in which broadcasters and newspapers have deployed the footage of Saddam's last moments. It turned us all - willing or unwilling - into voyeurs. For those who are really keen, I gather that footage of the hanging itself can easily be found on the net.

The conduct of the execution, which allowed Saddam to emerge as the only dignified figure involved, was of a piece with the shambles into which the occupation of Iraq has fallen. As the New York Times reports:

Iraqi and American officials who have discussed the intrigue and confusion that preceded the decision late on Friday to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows have said that it was the Americans who questioned the political wisdom — and justice — of expediting the execution, in ways that required Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to override constitutional and religious precepts that might have assured Mr. Hussein a more dignified passage to his end.

The Americans’ concerns seem certain to have been heightened by what happened at the hanging, as evidenced in video recordings made just before Mr. Hussein fell through the gallows trapdoor at 6:10 a.m. on Saturday. A new video that appeared on the Internet late Saturday, apparently made by a witness with a camera cellphone, underscored the unruly, mocking atmosphere in the execution chamber.

This continued, on the video, through the actual hanging itself, with a shout of “The tyrant has fallen! May God curse him!” as Mr. Hussein hung lifeless, his neck snapped back and his glassy eyes open.

The cacophony from those gathered before the gallows included a shout of “Go to hell!” as the former ruler stood with the noose around his neck in the final moments, and his riposte, barely audible above the bedlam, which included the words “gallows of shame.” It continued despite appeals from an official-sounding voice, possibly Munir Haddad, the judge who presided at the hanging, saying, “Please no! The man is about to die.”

The Shiites who predominated at the hanging began a refrain at one point of “Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!”— the name of a volatile cleric whose private militia has spawned death squads that have made an indiscriminate industry of killing Sunnis — appending it to a Muslim imprecation for blessings on the Prophet Muhammad. “Moktada,” Mr. Hussein replied, smiling contemptuously. “Is this how real men behave?”
We are accustomed to being told that we are far more civilised than previous generations, but I wonder. There may have been demands to "Hang the Kaiser" after the First World War, but they were resisted by the authorities. Willhelm II died from natural causes in the Netherlands in 1941.

Nor was Napoleon executed, even after his escape from Elba and the subsequent Battle of Waterloo. He was merely exiled again.

To finish on a lighter note, I recall a cartoon which showed Napoleon aboard ship looking very depressed. One British sailor is saying to the other: "The poor sod thinks he is being exiled to St Helens."


Pete in Dunbar said...

"The poor sod thinks he is being exiled to St Helens."

Ah, yes. It was in Punch many years ago (based on the famous painting of Napoleon on the Bellerophon). As someone who was born in St Helens, it's always been a favourite of mine - St Helens being, as I often say, a good place to be _from_.

Colin Campbell said...

The desperation of the Iraqi authorities to hang Saddam implies tremendous weakness in their authority. The rabble who oversaw the hanging symbolises the moral collapse and the vengeful anarchy that symbolise the Iraq that the Coalition of the Willing (Axis of Evil???) have created. Not much good coming out this other than some cathartic cleansing for some of the victims and opponents of Saddam.

Peter said...

So what's wrong with pornography, then?

I was rather under the impression that Lib Dems were quite relaxed about it.