Global Policy Forum

Saddam's Death Sentence Exposes a Rift


By Doreen Carvajal

International Herald Tribune
December 28, 2006

While Saddam Hussein faced death with a letter of farewell, the former Iraqi dictator's death sentence exposed a deep divide between the United States and Europe, with opposition building in the Continent's major capitals. Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy deplored the decision to execute Saddam, and Renato Martino, the cardinal who heads the Roman Catholic Church's council for justice and peace, warned that "nobody can give death, not even the state." Opposition had also come from the governments of Britain, Denmark, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany.

But in most cases the criticism is qualified opposition directed at the morality of capital punishment rather than sympathy for Saddam or doubts about the fairness of his trial, an issue raised by groups like Human Rights Watch.

Saddam's chief lawyer on Thursday implored world leaders to prevent the United States from handing him over to the Iraqi authorities for execution, saying he should enjoy protection from his enemies as a "prisoner of war," The Associated Press reported from Baghdad. "According to the international conventions, it is forbidden to hand a prisoner of war to his adversary," said the lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi.

Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program for Human Rights Watch, said he doubted that the opposition would create enough pressure to halt Saddam's sentence. "I think that the imperative that has been driving the Iraqi leadership to execute Saddam is such that this train has left the station," said Dicker, who noted that the criticism of capital punishment was important "to take into account principled opposition to the death penalty regardless of the individual involved."

In Berlin, the German government rejected the death penalty, which is banned there and in the rest of the European Union. But Chancellor Angela Merkel's deputy spokesman, Thomas Steg, called a legal coming to terms with Iraq's past "necessary," saying that "there are no signs that both the trial and the appeal did not take place in accordance with the country's legal principles and rule of law."

In Italy, politicians from the center- right and left coalition found a rare issue for agreement and were almost unanimous in their opposition to the death sentence. Marco Pannella, leader of Italy's Radical Party, offered Thursday to head to Baghdad to secure a pardon as he fasted on the third day of a hunger strike to protest the sentencing. A demonstration outside the Iraq Embassy in Rome is also being organized by the Green Party.

On Thursday, Prodi repeated his opposition to capital punishment after his year-end news conference, but denied a report that he intended to lead an international campaign against the sentence.

"The decision to condemn Saddam to death has in itself more risk of negative effects than positive for the stabilization of the country. I don't believe that the execution of Saddam will help even minimally the pacification of the country," said Prodi, who defeated Bush's close ally Silvio Berlusconi last April, and withdrew Italian troops from Iraq. "I don't believe that any solution of this type can resolve the questions of the Middle East."

The Vatican also generally opposes the death penalty, but in this case the church has not issued a formal statement about Saddam's sentence, and a church spokesman, the Reverend Federico Lombardi, said he did not expect one to be forthcoming. "There are unfortunately many death penalty cases in the world, and the church has over time matured our position, which is in opposition to the death penalty, but it isn't like every time we will intervene," Lombardi said.

Not all of Europe shares the same doubts about capital punishment. In Eastern Europe, President Lech Kaczynski of Poland, who has sought to revive the death penalty in the European Union, has characterized Saddam's execution as the "only possible verdict."

And the Continent's citizens also appear to take a harsher view. In a survey of 12,570 people in six countries by the new French international broadcaster France 24 and Novartis/Harris Interactive, most participants favored the death sentence for Saddam. With the exception of Italians, participants from Britain, France, Germany and Spain supported the execution, as did those from the United States. That position was strongest in Britain and the United States, where 82 percent of the Americans polled supported the penalty, followed by 69 percent of the British, 58 percent of the French, 53 percent of the Germans and 51 percent of the Spanish.

"I am a bit stupefied," Carla Del Ponte, the United Nations war crimes prosecutor, said on the France 24 program "The Talk of Paris," where the poll results were discussed last week. "I think this comes more out of a spirit of vengeance, as the death penalty is naturally the final word to every story."

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Iraq Tribunal
More Information on Iraq


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.