Monday, August 29, 2005
In this photo released by Iraqi Special Tribunial ousted President Saddam Hussein, is seen being questioned by Chief Investigative Judge Raid Juhi(unseen). Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in remarks that he would not sign a death sentence against his ousted predecessor Saddam Hussein even if it costs him his job.(AFP/IST-HO/File)
Iraq President Jalal Talabani, it turns out, is opposed to the death penalty as a matter of principle, and has therefore said that he will not sign a death sentence for Saddam even if it means that he will have to resign his job.
One's first impulse is to imagine that the price of Talabani's principles may be very high. Saddam will remain alive if Talabani has his way, and that means that there will always be the potential for his release. Will that potential inspire the Ba'athist rejectionists and sustain them in their war? And then there is the matter of justice. Can the victims of Saddam's oppression -- living and otherwise -- achieve the closure necessary to build a better Iraq if Saddam lingers actually, rather than only in memory?
It is possible, though, that Talabani's resolute commitment to his principles are exactly what the new Iraq needs. Talabani's politically dangerous position is proof that he is willing to put principle over political expediency, something that has rarely happened, I am sure, in the history of modern Iraq. This is especially significant in a society defined by violence and broadly willing to use capital punishment. If the people see and appreciate his example it could redefine what it means to be a leader in Iraq and perhaps even the broader Arab world.
Talabani's rejection of the death penalty may also advance American interests, even if it does give hope to the rejectionist insurgency in Iraq. It is, after all, the ambition of the United States to revise the way Arabs think about their leaders. Is it not possible that Talabani's stand will cause Arabs everywhere to demand more "principle" from their own governments?
There may also be a specific wisdom in letting Saddam live. If Iraq executes him, Arabs who oppose the new government of Iraq (both internally and elsewhere) will have a new martyr who cannot then be destroyed. There is the risk that in death Saddam would morph into an awful hero of anti-American Sunnis everywhere. If he is locked up under sufficiently degrading circumstances and condemned to spend the rest of his life consorting with common criminals, Iraqis may see their one-time tormentor as the vicious animal that he is. This may do more to discredit Ba'athist rejectionism than any execution ever would.
Finally, there is the "Ron White argument," which that great comedian offered up to explain why he was not in favor of executing Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, he argues, is "spiritually prepared to die for Islam." However, White goes on, he is "spiritually ill-prepared to lick grape jelly from Thunder Dick's butt crack" (he also adds that "comedy isn't pretty," and in recognition of that I hereby apologize to my readers). I think much the same can be said of Saddam. Don't execute him -- chuck him into the general prison population and throw away the key. And then occasionally release a video of him fighting "Mohammed the Monster" for a chicken wing.
Popinjay jibe triggers US brawl of the Brits
Monday August 29, 2005
Not since the Rumble in the Jungle, when Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman in Kinshasa in 1974, can there have been such an eagerly anticipated punch-up as the one due to take place in New York in a fortnight.
Odds as to whether the bout will go the distance, or on who can deliver a knockout punch, are already being offered as ring-side seats are sought.
The Grapple in the Big Apple will pit "Gorgeous" George Galloway, the MP, against Christopher Hitchens, the writer and polemicist, in a public debate over Iraq and US and British foreign policy. Political junkies in America are drooling at the prospect.
When the anti-war Respect MP for Bethnal Green visited Washington earlier this summer to deliver a lecture on Iraq to a gobsmacked Senate and to denounce allegations made against him by Republican senators, he briefly exchanged verbal fisticuffs with the pro-war Hitchens, and accused him of being a "drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjay".
Now it's time for a re-match. The event will take place on September 14 in the Mason Hall at the Baruch College performing arts centre in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan. It may not have quite the whiff of Madison Square Gardens, and the cornermen will be more likely to have to deal with wounded pride than bloodied cheekbones, but the venom will be as potent as in any title bout.
"Galloway is the most electrifying man in political entertainment," says one US political blogger. "Hopefully, George will follow up on his ... 'drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjay' jibe. That will take some beating, but I am confident he can top it."
Galloway is described on promotional material for his American talking tour as "the Brit who set Congress straight about Iraq". The referee - or moderator - will be Amy Goodman, veteran broadcaster for the leftist Pacifica radio network, who has a no-nonsense style of dealing with any troublemakers.
Supporters of Hitchens are hoping their man can prevail. He was seen in light training at the Hay-on-Wye festival, when he dispatched anti-smokers who objected to his lighting up with a couple of low blows.
On the conservative New Criterion magazine's website, one fan ponders: "Heck, I thought the UK deported Galloway back to Egypt with the rest of the clerics ... This is one cage match I surely plan to see."
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