Saddam Hussein, who only a week ago was seen as a murderous tyrant, is today seen as somewhat of a martyr in the Arab world. That transformation from murderer to martyr is emblematic of all that is wrong with George W Bush’s so-called "War on Terror".
The New York Times tonight reports on the refurbishing of Saddam’s image:
In the week since Saddam Hussein was hanged in an execution steeped in sectarian overtones, his public image in the Arab world, formerly that of a convicted dictator, has undergone a resurgence of admiration and awe.
On the streets, in newspapers and over the Internet, Mr. Hussein has emerged as a Sunni Arab hero who stood calm and composed as his Shiite executioners tormented and abused him.
“No one will ever forget the way in which Saddam was executed,” President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt remarked in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published Friday and distributed by the official Egyptian news agency. “They turned him into a martyr.”
That Saddam is emerging as a martyr after the spectacle of his execution is not much of a surprise – it was to be expected. It is the reaction of the White House to Saddam’s execution that I find very telling.
President Bush’s first public comment on the execution scandal emphasized justice:
"I wish, obviously that the proceedings had gone in a more dignified way, but, nevertheless, he was given justice that thousands of people he killed were not," Bush said after talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder [Angela Merkel].
Earlier his press secretary, and erstwhile Fox News talking head, asked us to focus on the positives:
And I think — it’s interesting because there seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein’s life and less about the first 69 in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people. That’s why he was executed.
The reaction from President Bush and his press secretary nicely encapsulate this administration’s flawed sense of justice.
The Bush Administration does not particularly care about how justice is carried out – as long as their notion of justice is carried out. Saddam was an evil man; therefore, he had to be killed. Whether he was killed by a mob, lynched, or otherwise humiliated is irrelevant to this administration.
This type of ends-justifies-the-means justice leads to the abuses of Abu Ghraib. This kind of neglect for the rule of law leads to indefinite detentions of American citizens without charge and the torture of detainees. This kind of disregard for the niceties of civilized society leads to the innocents being held without charge at Guantanamo Bay. This kind of callous conduct leads to terms such as "enemy combatant" and to ill-advised utterances like "Bring it on".
"Bringing people to justice" is not only about capturing and killing your perceived enemy. It is also about the fairness of the process. It is this process that America has in the past championed. At the Nuremburg Trials over a half a century ago, Justice Robert Jackson spoke words that today the Bush Administration would be well advised to heed:
Of one thing we may be sure. The future will never have to ask, with misgiving, what could the Nazis have said in their favor. History will know that whatever could be said, they were allowed to say. They have been given the kind of a Trial which they, in the days of their pomp and power, never gave to any man.
But fairness is not weakness. The extraordinary fairness of these hearings is an attribute of our strength. The Prosecution’s case, at its close, seemed inherently unassailable because it rested so heavily on German documents of unquestioned authenticity. But it was the weeks upon weeks of pecking at this case, by one after another of the defendants, that has demonstrated its true strength. The fact is that the testimony of the defendants has removed any doubt of guilt which, because of the extraordinary nature and magnitude of these crimes, may have existed before they spoke. They have helped write their own judgment of condemnation.
But justice in this case has nothing to do with some of the arguments put forth by the defendants or their counsel. We have not previously and we need not now discuss the merits of all their obscure and tortuous philosophy. We are not trying them for the possession of obnoxious ideas. It is their right, if they choose, to renounce the Hebraic heritage in the civilization of which Germany was once a part. Nor is it our affair that they repudiated the Hellenic influence as well. The intellectual bankruptcy and moral perversion of the Nazi regime might have been no concern of international law had it not been utilized to goosestep the Herrenvolk across international frontiers. It is not their thoughts, it is their overt acts which we charge to be crimes. Their creed and teachings are important only as evidence of motive, purpose, knowledge, and intent.
Let me emphasize one cardinal point. The United States has no interest which would be advanced by the conviction of any defendant if we have not proved him guilty on at least one of the Counts charged against him in the Indictment. Any result that the calm and critical judgment of posterity would pronounce unjust would not be a victory for any of the countries associated in this Prosecution.
It was the process that exposed to the whole world the atrocities of the Nazis and the justness of our cause. That process has stood the "critical judgment of posterity".
So, yes, Mr. Snow and Mr. Bush, justice is about the last two minutes. The first 69 years of Saddam’s life defined who he was. The last 2 minutes of Saddam’s life defined for all the world who Mr. Bush is.