Don't Cry for Saddam Hussein

As Saddam Hussein’s body cools, the controversy over his hanging simmers.

President Bush on Wednesday added his name to the chorus of international voices denouncing Hussein’s final moments. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and several other journalists spoke with the president just hours before his major national address on the future of the Iraq War. While ground rules prevented direct quotation of the president, here is how Williams summarized his exchange with the commander-in chief:

And at the end of today’s session in the Roosevelt Room in the White House with the small group of reporters, I asked the president if he had seen the execution video of Saddam Hussein. He indicated that he had and said, in his view, the way it was handled ranked just below the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in terms of mistakes made thus far in the war.

What is President Bush thinking?

This comment vindicates Bush’s foes who have criticized the hanging, about whom more shortly. It also undermines Bush’s supporters who defended Hussein’s execution. Most important, this statement undercuts Iraq’s democratically elected government (and its fledgling justice system) at exactly the time it struggles to maintain its authority. This was an incredibly unhelpful remark.

Bush’s words, once again, may fire up the Sunni side of the Arab street. It was enraged last week over verbal taunts the late Iraqi dictator endured, thanks to Shiite witnesses to his December 30 execution. One referred to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose father Hussein killed in 1999.

“Go to Hell!” another yelled.

“Please don’t,” a judge pleaded. “The man is facing execution.” Iraqi authorities arrested three witnesses for capturing cell-phone images that revealed these details.

Left-wing journalists, naturally, got in on the fun.

According to syndicated columnist Robert Scheer, “the frantic killing of Hussein abetted by the United States was the third act in a morality play of misplaced vengeance for the September 11 terrorist attacks—where the first act was the invasion of Iraq, based on trumped-up lies linking it to al Qaeda, and the second was the killing of the tyrant’s sons, whose bloody corpses were hypocritically displayed to the world like war scalps.” Scheer added: “U.S. officials appeared in this spectacle as hapless Keystone Kops, morally implicated by their tepid support of a lynch mob.”

The New York Times, increasingly indistinguishable from America’s Islamo-fascist enemies, yanked out its collective hair over this event.

“Iraq’s new Shiite rulers,” it reported January 1, “seemed bent on turning the execution and its aftermath into a new nightmare for the Sunni minority privileged under Mr. Hussein.”

The Times’ post-execution coverage of all-the-noose-that’s-fit-to-print also lamented “the pell-mell nature of the hanging” conducted by executioners who resembled “bullying street thugs.”

All of this hand wringing misses the mark as badly as a blind sharpshooter. Saddam Hussein got his just desserts after 24 years of treating his people to atrocities that were far beyond verbal. If furious Muslims and their leftist American sympathizers were not upset that Hussein was heckled as he died, they would whine about something else: The rope was too thick. The noose contained seven coils—far too many. Officials should have spurned Hussein’s wishes and shrouded his head, so he could face his death in darkness. The scaffold was metal, not wood. And how dare it be painted red?

Only America’s insidious, so-called “Paper of Record” could bellyache over a “dead-of-night rush to the gallows.” This mass murderer was extracted from his spider hole on Dec. 13, 2003, tried, convicted, and re-condemned on appeal. Far better, the Times must think, to delay this process beyond the intervening three years, two weeks, and three days. Perhaps Hussein could have remained as a rallying point for anti-American insurgents. Better yet, he could have escaped, and then led anti-U.S. terrorists from underground.

Those who wanted Hussein, somehow, to be hanged elegantly should compare his treatment with that of other doomed tyrants.

Hussein’s final chapter may have been uncomfortable, but it sure beat the demise of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. As recalls, the Marxist dictator and his wife fled Bucharest on Dec. 22, 1989, as the anti-Communist demonstrations that had toppled Warsaw Pact governments finally reached Romania’s capitol. After the Ceausescus traversed the countryside in a helicopter and then a car, police eventually caught them and handed them to the army. A military kangaroo court quickly convicted them of kleptocracy and genocide. The Ceausescus were permitted neither attorneys nor appeals. Just three days after exiting their palace, they were shot. Shortly before then, Mrs. Ceausescu pleaded: “Is this any way to treat your mother?”

Courtesy of the new Romanian government, a videotape of their execution soon appeared on international TV, complete with Nicolae Ceausescu’s bullet-pierced skull oozing blood. The world stayed calm, and The Tyrannical Street did not erupt in fury.

Forty-four years earlier, Italian Communist partisans seized Benito Mussolini, his mistress, Clareta Petacci, and several top officials on April 27, 1945, near Lake Como. They were attempting to escape by plane to Austria. The next day, Communists shot Mussolini, Petacci, and 15 leading Fascists in the village of Giulini di Mezzegra.

On April 29, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci, and some of their colleagues appeared in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto, hung upside down from meat hooks. Milanese citizens used the opportunity to abuse Mussolini’s corpse. Photographs of this spectacle quickly appeared in the world’s newspapers.

This is how Europeans behaved. So, why, exactly, are Americans supposed to get our underwear in knots because a few Shiites laughed at Hussein before he got what he had coming?

Forgive me if my eyes remain as dry as the sands of Samarra.

By comparison, on June 1, 1962, Israel hanged Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann in Ramla prison. If his guards had sung “Hava Nagila” and danced around his gallows before dropping him through it (which they did not do), so what?

Hussein’s defenders should stop pining for a pristine hanging that never was (has there ever been a pristine hanging?) and instead focus on his grotesque tenure.

Just last Monday, audio tapes played in the Baghdad trial of former Baathists found Saddam Hussein discussing the use of chemical weapons against innocent Kurdish civilians in 1988.

“It’s effective, especially on those who don’t wear a mask immediately, as we understand,” a voice identified as Hussein’s says in a meeting. “It exterminates thousands and forces them not to eat or drink, and they will have to evacuate their homes without taking anything with them, until we can finally purge them,” the voice continues.

In March 1988, Amnesty International reports, Hussein attacked Kurds in Halabja with mustard gas, nerve gas, and cyanide, killing at least 5,000. Survivors say they still cough up blood every morning.

Sports Illustrated reported in March, 2003 that one-time Iraqi Olympic soccer player Sharar Haddar claimed that Uday Hussein, the late dictator’s late son, aimed to build team spirit among Iraqi Olympians who lost in competition. Morale-boosting tactics, Haddar said, included dragging athletes across concrete until the skin came off their backs. Then they were pulled through a pit, so their raw skin would be coated in sand. And then they were forced to leap into a vat of sewage.

Feisal al-Istrabadi, Iraq’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on December 29 about “a friend of mine who was forced to watch the autopsy of his own mother as a child.” The woman “had been killed by the regime for being politically active against the regime.”

After surviving a 1982 assassination attempt in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, Hussein ordered the hanging of 148 local men and boys. For this, he was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death.

Dujail’s innocent women were jailed in Bassiyah. Um Talal-Khuraytli told the London Times’ Hala Janber how guards treated her pregnant daughter-in-law, Raida: They bound her legs while she was in labor. “She screamed in pain for hours,” the elderly woman said. “They left her in labor and would not untie her. Eventually she and the unborn baby died.”

There are hundreds of thousands more stories like this, starting with the estimated 300,000 men, women, and children Hussein drove into mass graves that are being excavated even today.

Interestingly enough, Hussein gripped a Koran as he plunged through the gallows’ trap door. His final words were, “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His messenger.” Oops! There goes the theory that Hussein was too secular to have collaborated with Muslim extremists. In fact, he generously plied Islamic terrorists, including al Qaeda agents, with money, sanctuary, passports, training, and other goods and services. For details, see

The Sunni street, Scheer, the Times, and everyone else weeping uncontrollably over a few inelegant comments at a despot’s hanging instead should cry for Saddam Hussein’s countless victims who were hurt not by his words, but by his sticks and stones that broke their bones.