Saddam Hussein: Better Dead or Alive?

A long and arduous saga came to an unsatisfying end last week as former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein was executed. Hussein’s crimes against humanity are well documented (the death and destruction at Dujail in the early 1980s, the Anfal campaign where an estimated 180,000 Kurds were killed by gas and chemical weapons, the invasion of Kuwait, the killing of thousands of Shiites and Marsh Arabs for rebelling, the torture of enemies, raping of women, and killing of children) so it’s no surprise that his death came fairly quickly after his prosecution. However, like his capture and prosecution, his death will have far reaching consequences.

Despite having years to prepare, nobody was ready for Hussein’s trial. During the trial that began more than a year ago, three members of his defense team were killed. To protest the killings, Hussein and his co-defendants went on a hunger strike demanding better security. In response, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said "every form of protection and assistance" is offered to the prosecution and defense, but "unfortunately, in the case of (Hussein), he refused" them. Besides the death of his attorneys and the hunger strike, Hussein also argued for regular visits from the international Red Cross and a new chief judge. One can only wonder what kind of retribution Hussein’s groupies performed on innocent civilians because of the attorney murders, and Hussein’s supposed injustices while in prison. The fact is this thing was botched from the day we found him in a hole in the ground.

Hussein’s hanging last week was another critical mistake in the war on terrorism. Although the verdict was a just decision (and long overdue resolution for Shiites and most Iraqis), it will only bring about an Armageddon that will further hamper peace around the world. Because of his execution, American installations and United States soldiers around the world have become even greater targets of scorn. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned Americans this week to be vigilant about the possibility of a terror attack. Thousands of Saddam loyalists mourned his death, mostly in Sunni strongholds. Some praised the Baath Party, others mourned at mosaics of Hussein, and many attended mosques for prayer and worship. The prevailing opinion amongst his supporters is that his legacy will live on and that his death made him a martyr.

It would have been far better for Hussein to spend his life in prison instead of being made a martyr at our expense. Although many Iraqi’s celebrated his hanging, his supporters welcomed the opportunity to use his death to further malign us and our attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East. Everyday people are dying in Iraq for reasons only the terrorists can understand. Now, these militants have another reason to direct bloodshed and destruction on the region. The unfortunate fact is that Hussein’s death is really more harmful than helpful for the US and its allies.

For President Bush, Hussein’s execution is just another missed opportunity in the fight against terrorism. Bush and his team could have easily blocked extradition and pushed to have the former dictator tried in American courts. This would have ensured security to the defense and guaranteed a fair and democratic trial. More importantly, in America, the odds of the death penalty would decrease, and the chance for torture or unfair treatment would be rare. Fair treatment and a life in prison for this brutal dictator may seem unfair to surviving victims, but it would help save more lives in the end. Had Hussein been treated humanely from the day we found him, and had he been sentenced to a life in prison, the US would be facing far less hatred from his supporters. Then, to add insult to injury, Hussein was executed on the day that Sunni celebrations began for Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim festival. Many religious leaders say that this contradicted Islamic culture and broke the Iraqi law. Instead of death for Hussein, America should have pushed for lifetime sentence as a way to reach out to the militants and decrease terrorism.

In this war against terrorism, every opportunity for progress must be seized. Prevailing military opinion is that you fight power with power, but war in this day in age is different. Terrorists aren’t afraid of death — in fact, they embrace it. They become martyrs upon their death and their families become immortalized. Thus, the U.S. government and allies need to take a hard look at non-military options to quell the Middle East violence and reduce the rage of terrorists. Hussein’s life was one of those options. Keeping him alive (and in American prison for life) could have resulted in concessions from his supporters. Regardless of what could have been negotiated, Americans and the world at large would be safer with Saddam Hussein alive and locked up for life.