End of days

As 2006 dwindles away, Saddam Hussein’s days may be numbered as well. The grim calculus of when to execute the former dictator is somewhat unsettled, due to the onset, of all things, of a religious holiday:

Saddam Hussein may be hanged within hours, senior Iraqi officials said on Friday, but the start of a week-long Muslim holiday might yet delay the execution.

Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and key officials met through the evening to try to settle the details, official sources said. Maliki has said he wants the ousted president put to death before the end of the year but, with Iraq on the brink of civil war, some Sunni and Kurdish leaders would prefer delay.

A senior Iraqi source told Reuters key legal issues were resolved and he could go to the gallows shortly. Among those meeting Maliki were the justice minister, who is responsible for executions, and the national security adviser, who may have to deal with any violent reaction from Saddam’s fellow Sunni Arabs.

Hussein is a monster who should never breathe free again. He committed and ordered unspeakable acts against innocents too numerous to contemplate. That being said, he should not be executed.

The execution of a criminal is never an ennobling act for the society carrying out the sentence. Execution is born of a thirst for revenge that, although frequently understandable, is an inexcusable basis for public policy. Whatever satisfaction a given execution may provide for the family of individual victims pales next to the corrosive effects the institution of capital punishment has on the rest of society. Where the slaking of blood-lust is enshrined in law, a people cannot hope for a government of compassion.

In Hussein’s case, execution carries with it the added disadvantage of permitting that butcher to go to a martyr’s death, at least in his own mind. It is a grand and, frankly, easy way out for him. Much better that he be locked away to wait out the end of his days — impotent, irrelevant and forgotten.

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