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Mafia-Style Justice: Executing Saddam, Protecting the Rackets
What does the execution of Saddam Hussein mean to the public?
What has the execution of captured national leaders meant in the past?
Vercingetorix was the leader of the Celtic revolt against Roman rule in Gaul. He was taken captive by Julius Caesar after the Gallic defeat in the Battle of Alesia (in eastern France) in 52 BC, and spent the next six years in chains and publicly displayed as a war trophy. In 46 BC, he was taken from his cell and marched through the streets of Rome during a procession honoring Caesar, and then publicly executed by strangulation. Gaius Julius Caesar himself would only live another two years, for he was executed by a group of assassins with daggers in 44 BC.
The overt U.S. military involvement in World War 2 lasted 3 years and 8 months, from early December 1941 to early August 1945. The war crimes tribunals of German (at Nuremberg) and Japanese (at Tokyo and Manila) political and military leaders occurred during 1945 to 1949. The major German war criminals were executed on
October 16, 1946 -- 10 hangings within 3.5 hours. Seven major Japanese war criminals were executed by hanging on December 13, 1948.
What can we say to characterize the executions cited? Consider these 4 possibilities:
1. In some cases, a degree of justice and some recognition of historical "lessons" came about as a result of the trials and punishment of war criminals.
2. Such executions are triumphal rituals by a victorious power elite lording it over the defeated.
3. These executions are political theater for the masses, to distract them from their many sacrifices -- especially through wars -- to the power elite.
4. They are used by the power elite to remove discarded members of their own class who are now political liabilities.
The current Iraq War broke out in March 2003 and has lasted 3 years and 8 months (like WW2). Victory in the form of a compliant Iraqi population and easy extraction of Iraqi natural resources -- oil -- has been elusive, so we have been presented with gestures of power: a string of "hits" on named "terrorists" leading up to the biggest show of this type, the execution of Saddam Hussein.
Saddam's execution was a triumphal ritual by US power against an occupied -- though still unconquered -- Iraqi people, it was the political decapitation of the former Iraqi elite, a demonstration intended to show Iraqi subjugation to Western power. But, the abysmal failure by the US managers of the Iraq War has undercut any propaganda value Saddam's execution might have had with the Iraqi public.
Beyond its use as political theater for the masses, Saddam's execution was a spasm of pleasurable barbarism within the international club of the leadership class, a triumphal ritual by a victorious elite against a defeated adversary of its own class. It was an orgasm of power that aspired to be both primal and stylized like the delivery of the coup de grace -- whether by a cat biting through the neck of its prey, or a lieutenant firing his pistol into the temple of one dispatched by a firing squad -- but came off graceless and chaotic like the frenzy of a lynching.
Western intervention in Iraq has been flawed; our reluctance to act in other parts of the world has been equally catastrophic
Sunday December 31, 2006
Someone thought they saw fear in his eyes, but it was hard to be sure. Saddam Hussein went quietly to the gallows. Given the momentous nature of the execution, the event was almost an anticlimax. If the great tyrant and mass murderer seemed diminished in the moment of his death, then so were the first architects of his demise.
Beyond the spectre of his atrocities lies the flawed evangelism of the invaders who sought to remove him. They have succeeded, but few tombstones have been more dearly bought. Many thousands of Iraqi civilians have died since the invasion began and more will perish before the New Year starts. As one more bloody dawn broke over Baghdad, Saddam's last post and requiem were the echo of bullets and the laments of the bereaved.
Many of his former subjects recalled another hanging day. Then the spirit of carnival prompted a few revellers to sling a noose round the neck of Saddam's statue, as an American marine briefly swathed the face in a US flag. It was April 2003 and many thought the war was over. Instead, the crash of his image symbolised other endings and beginnings: the death of hubris and the neo-con world vision; the birth of lawlessness and unimagined danger; the slow erosion of precious tenets of justice.