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The Nation

Keith Ellison and the Jefferson Koran

Despite a cynical campaign by those who would establish a religious test for holding office in these United States, newly elected Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison will swear his oath of office tomorrow on the Koran.

The objections to allowing Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, to take the oath as he chooses were so absurd in character and contention that they could easily be dismissed as a sideshow. But it would be dangerous to do so. The fact is that there has for a number of years now been a concerted effort by sincere if misguided religious zealots and conservative political strategists who delight in exploiting fears of diversity to redefine the American experiment as a Christian religious endeavor.

History does not provide even a soft grounding for this fantasy. The Founders of the country were men and women of the Enlightenment who, while surely imperfect in their thoughts and deeds, wisely sought to burst the chains of what Thomas Jefferson referred to as "monkish ignorance and superstition." They revolted against the divine right of kings, rejected the construct of state-sponsored religion and wrote a Constitution that not only guaranteed freedom of religion but required that: "The Senators and Representatives...and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

The controversy over Ellison's desire to swear his oath on a Koran, which had been stoked by conservative commentators initially, reached something of a fever pitch when Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, an otherwise obscure Republican, declared in a letter to a constituent that "When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Qur'an in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Qur'an."

Goode made several television appearances during which he pushed this line, even after it was pointed out to him that Ellison was born in the United States and traced his family's roots in this country back at least to 1742.

Goode left no doubt about his disdain for Islam and for its practioners, declaring that "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped. The Ten Commandments and 'In God We Trust' are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Qur'an. My response was clear, 'As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Qur'an is not going to be on the wall of my office.'"

Predictably, Goode found a forum on Fox News, where he stood by his statements and said, without a hint of irony, that "I wish more people would take a stand and stand up for the principles on which this country was founded."

What made Goode's ignorance of those founding principles remarkable was the fact that he represents Virginia's Albemarle County, where Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743.

On Thursday, it will not be Virgil Goode who pays tribute to Jefferson.

It will be Keith Ellison.

The new Congressman from Minnesota will declare his loyalty to the Constitution while clutching a copy of the Koran that was once owned by Jefferson. One of many Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist texts that the author of the Declaration of Independence donated to the Library of Congress at its founding, the Jefferson Koran has been loaned to Ellison by the rare book and special collections division of the library.

This is not mere symbolism. Ellison understands the Jeffersonian impulse that underpins the American experiment.

"When I'm officially sworn in, I will do it the same exact way as every other Congressperson-elect who was sworn in," explains the Representative from Minneapolis. "We will all stand up and in unison lift our hand and swear to uphold that Constitution, and then later, in a private ceremony, of course I'll put my hand on a book that is the basis of my faith, which is Islam, and I think that this is a beauty--this is a wonderful thing for our country because Jewish members will put their hands on the Torah. Mormon members will put their hand on the Book of Mormon. Catholic members will put their hand on the book of their choice--and members that don't want to put their hand on any book are also fully free to do that. That's the American way.... I think the diversity of our country is a great strength. It's a good thing that we have people from all faiths and all cultures to come here."

Make no mistake, were Jefferson, Madison, George Mason or any of the other Virginians who put their hands to the task of forging an experiment in religious tolerance and liberty asked to choose between Virgil Goode and Keith Ellison, those advocates for a "wall of separation" between church and state would not hesitate to say that it is Ellison who should be sworn in. And Jefferson, who spoke and wrote so extensively about his interest in and respect for Islam, would surely be honored to know that Ellison's hand will rest on the Koran that an enlightened Founder bequeathed not just to the Library of Congress but to America.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Saddam's Aftermath: The Milestone That Wasn't

The Bush Administration hoped that a guilty verdict for Saddam Hussein two days before the midterm elections would boost the electoral fortunes of sagging Republicans. It didn't. Once sentenced, they hoped that his execution would bring some much-needed good news to an Iraq policy in shambles and a country torn apart by an escalating civil war. It hasn't.

It's amazing that the death of Saddam, a man considered by pretty much everyone to have been a horrible dictator, could backfire on the Bush Administration and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq. But the grizzly hanging--and the nasty cellphone recorded taunts that followed--can now be viewed as yet another chapter in the evolving story of "What Went Wrong."

Saddam's execution, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman noted today, "resembled a tribal revenge ritual rather than the culmination of a constitutional process in which America should be proud to have participated."

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a man increasingly under fire, today detained one of Saddam's guards for possibly leaking the cellphone video. But the Times reported that another man present with a cellphone was Maliki's national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie. The plot thickens.

The Bush Administration is presently--and rather unconvincingly--trying to blame Maliki for rushing Saddam's execution. "American officials said that they had worked until the last hours of Mr. Hussein's life to persuade Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to delay the execution," the Times reported.

Maybe so. But the Bush Administration is to blame for botching Saddam's trial, by holding it inside Iraq and outside the jurisdiction of international law. If Saddam was given over to the International Criminal Court, there would have been no cellphone pictures, no taunting, no scandal and no execution.

Heroes and Zeroes of 2006

With an abortion ban in South Dakota, a pitched battle over the FDA's approval of the "morning-after" pill for over-the-counter sales, continued struggles over anti-choice Bush Administration judicial appointees and a tumultuous election season, 2006 was a busy year for defenders of reproductive rights in America. One of the most active groups working in defense of Roe v. Wade, NARAL Pro-Choice America, is asking for nominations for the pro-choice Heros and Zeros of this chaotic year.

The comp is fierce for the dubious honor of Zero of 2006 with South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, Colorado Governor Bill Owens and Eric Keroack, Bush's reactionary nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, all running strong. Fortunately, there are more than enough Heroes of 2006 to choose from, including Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath and the entire NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, which played a critical role in forcing Wal-Mart to end its discriminatory policy against stocking emergency contraception, aka, Plan B and the "morning-after" pill.

Click here to cast your vote, and check out NARAL's Choice Action Center to find up-to-date information about relevant political campaigns in your state and nationwide, timely and fun online features, and step-by-step tools to make it easy for you to bring your pro-choice activism to a new level.

This Just In from Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson, that wise prognosticator you all know and love has a brand new prediction for his flock: millions of them will most likely die at the end of this new year. On his incredibly classless program The 700 Club, where last year Robertson proved what a good Christian he was by calling for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to bekilled, he announced that God has told him of a "mass killing" coming at the end of '07.

"The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that," Robertson stated matter-of-factly. God apparently delivers these cataclysmic predictions on a regular basis to Robertson's doorstep. Last year God told Robertson that a tsunami would probably slam against our country. ( I guess God was just playing a practical joke.)

Who knows why this terrible "mass killing" is bound to occur? Something tells me Robertson will link it to the incoming Democratic Congress or perhaps the existence of abortion rights and homosexuals. Whatever reason he cites you can be sure it is meant to manipulate and malign, because that's what Robertson does best.

Gays: Uncle Sam Wants You

Welcome to 2007. Though the US death toll in Iraq just hit 3,000, President Bush remains adamant about sending a "surge" of up to 40,000 new troops to the region. But where will these soldiers come from? An overextended military has already increased signing bonuses, raised the age-limit, lowered education requirements and waived restrictions on criminal records, drug and alcohol abuse and obesity. Alas for the Pentagon, it seems that the pool of fat, drug-addled, middle-aged felons wasn't quite deep enough. So who's next? Homosexuals!

In today's NYT former Joint Chief of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili -- once a supporter of Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- proposed allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East," he wrote, "and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

War makes for strange bedfellows indeed. Though truth be told, Gen. Shalikashvili isn't the first to link the case for military escalation with the advancement of gay rights. C. Dixon Osburn, the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said last year, "The law deprives our nation of thousands of skilled men and women who could be instrumental in fighting the war on terror. Our national security suffers because of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

And back when he was cheerleader-in-chief of the war on terror, Andrew Sullivan waxed on and on about the need for "gay heroes" in the fight against "Islamo-fascism." "For of all wars, this is surely one in which gay America can take a proud and central part. The men who have launched a war on this country see the freedom that gay people have here as one of the central reasons for their hatred," he once wrote.

The new Congress has been cool to Bush's call for more troops. The old Congress was positively frosty to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2005, which would have struck down Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So it's difficult to see how either initiative gets much traction this time around.

That said, in his last term, Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) supported both the Military Readiness Enhancement Act and the Defense of Marriage Amendment. In his view, I suppose, gays aren't fit for marriage, but are fit to die for their country. President Bush once called gay marriage a threat to "the most fundamental institution of civilization." Perhaps in 2007, Bush will come around to Boehlert's position: those who most threaten civilization from within (gays) will be called upon to fight those who most threaten civilization from without (Islamo-fascists). Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Kristol Clear at Time

The market doesn't work -- not when it comes to conservative commentators.

Before the Iraq war, rightwing (and middle-of-the-road) pundits claimed Saddam Hussein was a dire WMD threat, that he was in cahoots with al Qaeda, that the war was necessary. The neoconservative cheerleaders for war also argued that an invasion of Iraq would bring democracy to that nation and throughout the region. They were wrong. But they have paid no price for their errors. They did not have to serve in Iraq. None, as far as I can tell, have had sons or daughters harmed or killed in the fighting there. They did not have to bear higher taxes, because George W. Bush has charged the costs of this military enterprise to the national credit card. Though they miscalled the number-one issue of the post-9/11 period, they did not lose their influential perches in the commentariat. Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, Gary Schmitt, Danielle Pletka and others (including non-neocon Thomas Friedman) who blew it on Iraq still regularly appear on op-ed pages and television news shows, pitching their latest notions about Iraq, Iran or other matters.

Foremost among this band is William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and former chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle. Kristol, a Fox News regular, has not seen his standing as a go-to conservative pundit suffered. Moreover, he has been rewarded with a plum posting. Time magazine's new managing editor, Richard Stengel, has invited Kristol to become what Stengel calls a "star" columnist for the magazine.

Both Kristol and Stengel are likable fellows. I usually enjoy debating Kristol on television or radio. He's no hater, and he's no autopilot partisan. Stengel is a thoughtful and cerebral person who once was a senior adviser to cerebral Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat. So there's nothing personal when I ask, why in the hell does Stengel believe that what America needs now is more Bill Kristol? (Slate media cop Jack Shafer criticized Stengel's pick of Kristol by noting that "Kristol isn't much of a deviation from Charles Krauthammer, an occasional Time 'Essay' writer." Friendship declared: Shafer is a pal of mine.)

It's too late to affect Stengel's decision, but let's take this occasion to review Kristol's record on Iraq, courtesy of a rather cursory Nexis search. It holds no surprises.

On September 11, 2002, as the Bush administration began its sales campaign for the coming war, Kristol suggested that Saddam Hussein could do more harm to the United States than al Qaeda had: "we cannot afford to let Saddam Hussein inflict a worse 9/11 on us in the future."

On September 15, 2002, he claimed that inspection and containment could not work with Saddam: "No one believes the inspections can work." Actually, UN inspectors believed they could work. So, too, did about half of congressional Democrats. They were right.

On September 18, 2002, Kristol opined that a war in Iraq "could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East."

On September 19, 2002, he once again pooh-poohed inspections: "We should not fool ourselves by believing that inspections could make any difference at all." During a debate with me on Fox News Channel, after I noted that the goal of inspections was to prevent Saddam from reaching "the finish line" in developing nuclear weapons, Kristol exclaimed, "He's past that finish line. He's past the finish line."

On November 21, 2002, he maintained, "we can remove Saddam because that could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy."

On February 2, 2003, he claimed that Secretary of State Colin Powell at an upcoming UN speech would "show that there are loaded guns throughout Iraq" regarding weapons of mass destruction. As it turned out, everything in Powell's speech was wrong. Kristol was uncritically echoing misleading information handed him by friends and allies within the Bush administration.

On February 20, 2003, he summed up the argument for war against Saddam: "He's got weapons of mass destruction. At some point he will use them or give them to a terrorist group to use...Look, if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world....France and Germany don't have the courage to face up to the situation. That's too bad. Most of Europe is with us. And I think we will be respected around the world for helping the people of Iraq to be liberated."

On March 1, 2003, Kristol dismissed concerns that sectarian conflict might arise following a US invasion of Iraq: "We talk here about Shiites and Sunnis as if they've never lived together. Most Arab countries have Shiites and Sunnis, and a lot of them live perfectly well together." He also said, "Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president." And he maintained that the war would be a bargain at $100 to $200 billion. The running tab is now nearing half a trillion dollars.

On March 5, 2003, Kristol said, "I think we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq."

Such vindication never came. Kristol was mistaken about the justification for the war, the costs of the war, the planning for the war, and the consequences of the war. That's a lot for a pundit to miss. In his columns and statements about Iraq, Kristol displayed little judgment or expertise. He was not informing the public; he was whipping it. He turned his wishes into pronouncements and helped move the country to a mismanaged and misguided war that has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. That's not journalism.

In an effectively functioning market of opinion-trading, Kristol's views would be relegated to the bargain basement. And he ought to be doing penance, not penning columns for Time. But -- fortunate for him -- the world of punditry is a rather imperfect marketplace.

*****

DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Ford, Cheney, Checks and Balances

There has been much discussion over the past several days about the many contributions former President Gerald Ford made to the American political experiment.

Surely, his was a steady hand at the helm of a ship of state that Richard Nixon had steered into turbulent waters. And, surely, the grand old Republican's moderation was a necessary corrective against the sort of ideological abuses committed by too many of his fellow partisans.

But Ford's greatest contribution involved the respect he showed for the system of checks and balances that the founders established in order to protect and maintain the Republic. A man of Congress who came to the Oval Office by the accident of appointment rather than the design of candidacy, Ford moved in the first months of his presidency to renew proper relations between the executive and legislative branches.

Critics may suggest that Ford exceeded his powers as president with his decision to pardon his scandal-plagued predecessor.

While presidents are afforded the authority to grant pardons, it is certainly reasonable to disagree with the decision to clear Richard Nixon before Congress and the courts were done with him.

It is impossible, however, for anyone who cares about the right working of the federal government to disagree with what Ford did next.

After he pardoned Nixon "for all offenses against the United States which he... has committed or may have committed or taken part in" while his disgraced predecessor occupied the Oval Office, the 38th president voluntarily appeared before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee to testify under oath regarding his decision.

Contrast Ford's respect for Congress with the belligerent disregard for the institution shown by members of the current administration. Vice President Cheney, Ford's former White House chief of staff, has been particularly foul – not to mention foul-mouthed – in his rejection of congressional oversight.

In mourning Ford's passing, Cheney referred to the former president as his "mentor." Fair enough. If the current vice president has honest regard for the model established by his former boss, Cheney should honor Ford's legacy by accepting the invitation of incoming House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan, and several of his colleagues to testify before Congress regarding the role played by the Office of the Vice President in 2003 moves to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

The request came last year, when it was revealed that Cheney was actively engaged in efforts to undermine Wilson's credibility after the veteran diplomat revealed that the White House had inflated the "threat" posed by Iraq before the U.S. invasion of that country, there. Those efforts appear to have included a move to expose the identity of Wilson's wife, Valarie, as a CIA operative.

"In response to significant public scrutiny, President Gerald R. Ford came to Capitol Hill on October 17, 1974 to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on why he pardoned President Richard M. Nixon," Conyers, incoming House Government Reform Committee chair Henry Waxman, D-California, and New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey wrote to Cheney last year. "At the time of President Ford's appearance before Congress, you served as his Deputy Chief of Staff and later became his Chief of Staff. With that precedent in mind, we respectfully request that you make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement – in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative."

Ford knew he owed the Congress – and, by extension, the American people -- an explanation for his actions in 1974, and he provided it. By willingly offering that explanation in testimony under oath to members of the House who had the authority and the position to question him respectfully but frankly, he undid at least a measure of the damage done by Nixon during the Watergate years.

Cheney and other members of the Bush administration owe the Congress – and, by similar extension, the American people – an explanation for their actions not just in 2003 but since 2001. Without a show of respect for Congress similar to that provided by Ford three decades ago, the damage done to the system of checks and balances by the Bush-Cheney White House will deepen and darken into not just a cancer on the presidency but a threat to the Republic itself.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

'Gruesome.' 'Barbaric.' 'Politicized.' 'Farcical.'

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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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

America's Complicity in Saddam's Crimes

Saddam Hussein's execution on Dec. 30 prevents him from being put on trial for his most serious crimes – genocide against the Kurds and the use of poison gas in the Iran-Iraq war. As many as 100,000 Kurds were killed in 1988. Why then was Saddam executed for killing 148 men and boys in the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982?

Human rights activists say the answer is clear: the Bush White House wanted to prevent Saddam from offering evidence of US complicity in his crimes as a defense. It's the same reason the Saddam trial was held under Iraqi auspices rather than in the International Criminal Court: ''It's to protect their own dirty laundry,'' Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times in 2004. ''The U.S. wants to keep the trial focused on Saddam's crimes and not their acquiescence.''

Human Rights Watch has done more to document Saddam's genocide of the Kurds than any other organization. Their 1993 report remains the most detailed and meticulous account, based on extensive interviews with eyewitnesses and analysis of Iraqi government internal communications. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam had lost control of Kurdish regions because all his troops had been sent to the battlefields. But as that war came to an end in 1988, he launched his "Anfal" campaign against the Kurds, leveling thousands of their villages and killing 50,000-100,000, mostly by bombing and mass executions.

Saddam's most notorious atrocity was his use of poison gas against Kurds in the town of Halabja in 1988, killing at least 5,000. George Bush cited that attack – "gassing his own people" -- as part of his argument for a US war against Iraq. However back in 1988 the US worked to prevent the international community from condemning Iraq's chemical attack against Halabja, instead attempting to place part of the blame on Iran. [See Dilip Hiro, "Iraq and Poison Gas," TheNation.com, Aug. 28, 2002.]

The US had supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, on the grounds that Iran was a greater threat to the US after the rise to power of the Ayatolla Khomeini.

When the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, Saddam's genocide against the Kurds was no secret. The US Senate passed a bill to penalize Baghdad for violating the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons – they did it virtually without opposition, in a single day.

But the Reagan Administration killed the bill. Political scientist Bruce Jentleson of Duke University told the BBC that they did it "for two reasons. One, economic interests. In addition to oil, Iraq at that point had become the second-largest recipient of government agricultural credits to buy American agriculture . . . . And secondly was this continual blinders of the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam used chemical weapons, most obviously in his 1988 campaign to retake the Fao Peninsula. The had been banned since the 1925 Geneva Convention. His trial for that crime has also been prevented by the execution.

Again his defense was likely to have been that the US did not object at the time. Walter Lang, senior defense intelligence officer for the United States Defense Intelligence Agency at the time, told the New York Times in 2002 that "the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern" to Reagan and his aides, because they "were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose."

Trials in Baghdad for other Iraqi leaders accused of genocide against the Kurds and violation of the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons may be held. But as Antoine Garapon, director of the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies in Paris, told the New York Times, even if others stand trial, "the person deemed most responsible would never face judgment."

Thus Saturday's execution of Saddam Hussein seems less an act of justice for his victims and more an effort to cover up US complicity in his regime.