Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The lynching of Saddam Hussein

While I'd agree with many of the criticisms Brian Barder has made of the execution of Saddam Hussein, taken as a whole the piece conflates two separate issues; one's attitude and opinion on the death penalty per se and how it was conducted in this case.

It is perhaps inevitable for opponents of the death penalty to say, in effect, that this form of punishment is heinous and this particular example to be especially so, given its obvious departure for recognised conventions of due process.

But I think we should strive to keep the issues separate. I too oppose the death penalty but a rejection of the utilitarian theory of punishment has left me wondering whether my continued opposition isn't really just a matter of aesthetics and prejudice.

I'm not at all sure, for example, that I could agree with Brian Berber's assertion that "all civilised people in the western world...regard all forms of capital punishment as disgusting and unacceptable".

It might be more accurate to say that most of the European middle classes find the death penalty "disgusting and unacceptable" because opposition to this form of punishment as a hallmark of 'civilisation' is both more recent and more localised than many people tend to assume and certainly was not central to the political culture that grew out of the Enlightenment.

A rejection of utilitarianism should also lead one to repudiate arguments against this execution on the grounds that it makes him look like a 'martyr', or that it made him 'look good'. Whatever the shortcomings of this process, only a moral idiot could form either of these opinions.

Neither is the recognition that the result of this trial was a 'foregone conclusion' a valid objection here. The presumption of innocence is not an act of faith but a procedural disposition, the adoption of which should not be taken to indicate that the outcome of any given trial where the evidence is as copious as it is overwhelming should somehow guarantee uncertainty of outcome.

The point of all this? There was one. It is that regardless of what one's position on the death penalty may be, there is a respectable case to be made for it on the grounds that it imputes both to the perpetrator and to the victim a concept of human worth and responsibility that is lacking in the utilitarian view of the human condition.

But what is central to this view is the notion that the law should be blind - that it should not respect persons but universal principles, and with this end in view it is essential that the institutions of a state should never deprive another human being of their life or their liberty without a due process that pays due deference to these aforementioned principles.

In this narrower sense, I'd have to concur with Brian Barder; anyone who cares about these things should indeed find the lynching of Saddam Hussein, as it has been performed, as has become available to the world in pornographic detail, an atrocious thing.

[Via Chris Dillow]

Crossposted at DSTPFW


james higham said...

..it imputes both to the perpetrator and to the victim a concept of human worth and responsibility that is lacking in the utilitarian view of the human condition..

Probably right. Hadn't thought of it this way.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why you write a thoughtful article then spoil it with what appears to be a deliberately emotive choice of words - lynching. Lynching is what happens when the mob prevents due process of law and a fair trial of someone and does the hanging themselves on the basis of presumed guilt (see the Times on a British man murdered in India recently) I don't profess to know the ins and outs of it but Saddam did get a trial, so the word is execution or hanging.

The continual use of emotional, inaccurate phrasing, whether about Saddam, Israel, global warming etc is why most educated people have abandoned the msm, particularly the BBC and metropolitan press, for the source of the news and turned to bloggers. Please don't follow their path to perdition, because you are doing a good job.

Shuggy said...

Ok anon - don't take the term lynching to carry all the connotations you ascribe to it. It's just that this procedure bore enough of these to justify the use of this term for me. Not mob rule, as you say - but sufficiently deviant from the norms of due process to make this term not entirely inappropriate?

keelie said...

"...anyone who cares about these things should indeed find the lynching of Saddam Hussein, as it has been performed, as has become available to the world in pornographic detail, an atrocious thing."

So does this mean that we have to find a way of doing away with murderous thugs, (a) off camera and (b) with an air of gentleness and sensitivity?

Anonymous said...

Sorry but it doesn't wash Shuggy. I am not ascribing connotations to the word, I am telling you what it means. Words mean exactly what they say in the dictionary, not what we want them to mean.

Saddam did get due process. His trial was probably as fair and impartial as they could manage in that hell hole. He had a defence team. There was a judge and jury and credible witnesses. Evidence was presented. He was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Allowing family members of his victims to hang him instead of using an officer of the law was reprehensible but it doesn't alter the fact that he was executed as a result of proven guilt.

Sorry if I sound like a pedant but without accuracy there is no integrity. Emotive words hide and distort the truth.

BrianB. said...

I'm flattered to have my blog post (at http://www.barder.com/ephems/633) used as a peg on which to hang this discussion; but I don't at all accept the suggestion that I failed to distinguish between my opposition to all forms of capital punishment on the one hand, and my condemnation of this particular killing (I prefer not to call it an execution for reasons explained on my blog, nor a lynching with its mob violence connotation) on the other. On the contrary: every one of my ten reasons for denouncing the killing of Saddam was valid independently of one's view of capital punishment, and should have been perfectly acceptable to the most rabid hanger and flogger. I did state my objection to all capital punishment, but entirely separately from the ten criticisms of the Saddam grotesquerie.

Moreover, contrary to what you might suppose from Shuggy's post, at no time did I suggest that the hanging made Saddam 'look good' or gave him martyr status. I have no sympathy at all with this monster -- although it seems to me impossible not to acknowledge the dignity and courage that he displayed in his final minutes, in the face of gross provocation from the hooligans who killed him. Even his American gaolers have praised him for the courtesy towards them and the dignity he displayed in his last weeks as he awaited his death.

Finally, I am surprised by Shuggy's aspersions on some of my comments on capital punishment generally and on some of my ten points of criticism of this particular event. I stand by all of them, and invite anyone interested to compare what I wrote with Shuggy's points of disagreement -- although I'm glad that in the end he came round to my own point of view.


shuggie said...

Aw, come on, folks. I did what you and everyone else did - I googled saddam hoping to see the fucker dangling on a rope. I've never seen a hanging, and feel I still haven't. I wanted to see the kicking and thrashing, but it didn't happen.
Ho-hum. There's plenty more where he came from. Maybe Blair getting the big injection, Particia Hewitt being fed into a bacon slicer.
The pont is not the ethics or morals of execution. It's death. It's a hit. Cope with it.

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