Death Sentence for Saddam Hussein?

Saddam Hussein been sentenced to death. When I read the report in The Age, I remembered a quote from my favourite book, Lord of the Rings.

Gandalf and Frodo are having a conversation about Gollum:

Frodo says, “What a pity Bilbo did not stab the vile creature [Gollum], when he had a chance!

Gandalf replies, “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.”

Frodo retorts, “I do not feel any pity for Gollum. He deserves death.”

Gandalf replies “Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give that to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.”

This exchange has stayed with me all my life. I don’t think I need to say any more than that.

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8 Comments

Filed under death sentence, Saddam Hussein

8 responses to “Death Sentence for Saddam Hussein?

  1. iain

    . Tolkein was a very devout catholic who believed that in the end justice is in the hands of god.
    When I consider that the alternative to a death sentence is incarceration for the term of his natural life it is hard not to think that such imprisonment is perhaps a more cruel punishment than a swift end courtesy of the hangman’s rope. So we have to ask are we seeking justice or vengeance? Frankly I don’t think that the Iraqi people will feel that imprisonment could ever be enough for Sadam’s many crimes.

  2. Legal Eagle

    I know that Tolkien was a devout Catholic. Perhaps my moral code has been influenced by his book, even though I am not Catholic? I first read it when I was 7 or 8, and it had a great impact on me.

    I just wonder if it actually fixes anything to kill Saddam. It may even make a martyr of him (I am reminded of Charles I). Also, I am naturally squeamish about legally sanctioning the death of a person. I tend to the view that if I couldn’t pull the trigger myself (which I couldn’t in cold blood) then why should I ask another to do so? As I’ve said elsewhere, admittedly, my family and friends haven’t been killed by him – perhaps I would feel differently then. I do not know.

    I guess what I am concerned about is that you just cannot tell what the ramifications of such a drastic action is.

  3. iain

    I guess what I am concerned about is that you just cannot tell what the ramifications of such a drastic action is.
    Sure but what would the ramifications if he is not executed? I suppose it is questions like this that make it essential that someone on the bench thinks deeply about any sentence that they hand down. But a dead Sadam will be less of a rallying point for the remaining barthists than a live one…

  4. Legal Eagle

    It could be that if he is jailed he just withers away to anonymity, but if he is executed he becomes a martyr. On the other hand, it could be that if he is left alive, Baathists try to break him out of jail and rally around him, and it destabilises the country. I’m not sure that the answer is crystal clear. There’s no easy or good solution from my point of view.

    In this way, I’m conservative: I tend towards the less drastic solution when I’m not sure that the answer is clear. I suppose the problem is that if I am wrong and Saddam causes problems, you can’t then go and execute him.

    What you really need is two alternate universes: one with a dead Saddam and one with a live but incarcerated Saddam, and to assess the outcomes… Alas, the world doesn’t work that way.

    This is why I tend to avoid criminal law with a 10 foot barge pole. I’d be a terrible criminal law judge. I’d be in agonies all the time: I’m too much of a big softie in some respects.

  5. iain

    What you really need is two alternate universes: one with a dead Saddam and one with a live but incarcerated Saddam, and to assess the outcomes… Alas, the world doesn’t work that way.
    and upon such ideas there have been many interesting Sci Fi stories…

  6. Armagnac Esq.

    I derived the same impact from reading ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’, by Stephen King (a better writer than Tolkien by far!), in Norway in 1990…

  7. Anonymous

    @iain “But a dead Sadam will be less of a rallying point for the remaining barthists than a live one…”

    This doesn’t take into account the cultural specifics of the area. A marthyr is a much more powerful rallying point than any living person can be -especially Saddam who, now, not being in a position of power anymore, has no favors to grant and no wealth to distribute. He is not the strongman that he was. There was no attempt to free him by force. Of course not. What would be the point of freeing a man who had been dragged out of a hole in the ground and whose sole defense was to point at power he did no longer hold?
    Unfortunately, the White House leadership has never even come close to understanding the workings of the region, which is why they behave like the proverbial elephant in a china shop. And the current iraqi leadership is way too personally invested in the trial.

    Killing Saddam will both reduce the chance that the lead-up to the war will ever be sorted out and reduce the chance of the country calming down any time soon. The only purpose it can serve is to give the White House an opportunity to gloat and brag about “missions” that have been accomplished while letting the whole region go straight to hell and satiate revenge wishes of his victims -who will discover the hard way that they won’t be able to sleep any sounder without him.

    BTW, Armagnac, calling King a far better writer than Tolkien is quite a stretch. The two write very different types of literature.

  8. Pingback: An apposite quotation « The Legal Soapbox

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