While much of U.S. media coverage of Saddam Hussein's execution has strained to echo the Bush administration's suggestion that "justice" was done, the international reaction to the hurried hanging of the former dictator has recognized what one of the world's top experts on the Middle East refers to as the "gruesome, occasionally farcical" nature of the process that led to the execution.
"It's tawdry," Rosemary Hollis, the director of research at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London, said of the execution. "It's not going to achieve anything because of the way the trial was conducted and the way the occupation was conducted. Life in Iraq has become so precarious that many people are saying it was safer under Saddam Hussein - it makes the whole thing look like a poke in the eye as opposed to closure or some kind of contribution to the future of Iraq. The purpose should have been to see justice done in a transparent manner... the trial was gruesome, occasionally farcical, and failed to fulfill its promise of giving satisfaction."
Chris Doyle, the London-based director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, was equally dismissive, telling the Guardian newspaper that, "For Bush, Blair and their diminishing brotherhood of diehard supporters, Saddam's demise is their sole concrete victory in Iraq in almost four years. This should have been the crowning glory of their efforts, but instead it may pose yet another risk to their demoralised troops. For Iraqis, some will see it as a symbol of the death of the ancien regime. For some Sunnis, Saddam's death represents the final nail in the coffin of their fall from power. But Iraqis may also see this as the humiliation of Iraq as a whole, that their president, however odious, was toppled by outside powers, and is executed effectively at others' instigation."
Doyle's assessment was shared by Iraqi expatriate Kamil Mahdi, an academic who is now associated with the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Britain's Exeter University. "It will be taken as an American decision," Mahdi said of the decision to execute Hussein and the way in which deposed leader was killed. "The worst thing is that it's an issue which, in an ideal situation, should have unified Iraq but the Americans have succeeded in dividing the Iraqis."
Critics of the trial and execution of the former dictator did not defend his actions. Rather, they recognized the fundamental flaws in his trial by an inexperienced and clearly biased Iraqi judiciary. And they condemned the rush to hang Hussein by a country employing the widely-rejected sanction of capital punishment.
"A capital punishment is always tragic news, a reason for sadness, even if it deals with a person who was guilty of grave crimes," explained Father Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Vatican, who added that, "The killing of the guilty party is not the way to reconstruct justice and reconcile society. On the contrary, there is a risk that it will feed a spirit of vendetta and sow new violence."
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, while officially welcoming moves to hold Hussein to account for killings and other crimes that tool place during his tenure as president of Iraq, issued a statement that said, "The British government does not support the use of the death penalty, in Iraq or anywhere else. We advocate an end to the death penalty worldwide, regardless of the individual or the crime."
Another longtime U.S. ally, Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who in 2003 dispatched his country's troops to support the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, condemned the hanging of Hussein as "a step backward in Iraq's difficult road toward full democracy. Describing the killing as a "political and historical" mistake, Berlusconi said, "The civilization in the name of which my country decided to send Italian soldiers into Iraq envisioned overcoming the death penalty, even for a bloody dictator like Saddam."
Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm criticized the hanging as "barbaric," and similar criticism came from officials of Chile, Spain, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland and the Ukraine.
Speaking for Amnesty International, Malcolm Smart, director of the organization's Middle East and North Africa Programme, echoed concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch and other watchdog groups.
"We oppose the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, but it is especially abhorrent when this most extreme penalty is imposed after an unfair trial," said Smart. "It is even more worrying that in this case, the execution appeared a foregone conclusion, once the original verdict was pronounced, with the Appeals Court providing little more than a veneer of legitimacy for what was, in fact, a fundamentally flawed process."
While Iran, which fought a long war with Iraq in the 1980s, found itself in ironic agreement with the Bush administration's enthusiasm for the execution, most Muslim countries were critical of the timing of the hanging.
The killing of Hussein during the Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, an annual period of religious reflection seem by Muslims globally as a time for showing forgiveness, drew rebukes even from U.S. allies. During Eid, Muslim countries rarely execute prisoners and frequently pardon them.
"There is a feeling of surprise and disapproval that the verdict has been applied during the holy months and the first days of Eid al-Adha," Saudia Arabia's official news agency declared after the execution. "Leaders of Islamic countries should show respect for this blessed occasion... not demean it."
"It had been expected that the trial of a former president, who ruled for a considerable length of time, would last longer... demonstrate more precision, and not be politicized," continued the blunt statement from the Saudis.
Libya cancelled Eid al Adha celebrations and ordered that flags on government buildings be flown at half-mast.
A statement from the Egyptian foreign ministry announced that, "Egypt regrets the fact that the Iraqi authorities carried out the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and that it took place on the first day of Eid Al Adha."
From Cairo, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alaa Al Hadidi complained that the execution's timing "did not take into consideration the feelings of Muslims and the sanctity of this day which represents amnesty and forgiveness."
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