The Execution of Saddam: A Media Spectacle
What a stark contrast one sees in the Canadian media’s reporting of Saddam’s execution. Watching CBC Newsworld and reading the CBC.ca News web site, one can’t help but be left with the impression that Saddam, while probably guilty of grave crimes, was nonetheless the victim of a kangaroo court, grounded in the trappings of a legal system but without any of the proper, due process normally assigned to a capital crime case – at least by western standards.
And in the more conservative-leaning media, CTV News (CTVNews.ca), what we see is a guest interview with a barrister with the International Bar association; the organization responsible for training Iraq’s new judiciary, talk about how the essential principles of law were followed, how well-trained the judiciary was, etc., etc. The interviewee even used words like "fair", "due process", "conscientious", "intelligent", "sophisticated", "basic principal pillars of a fair trial" and, "a reasoned, written judgement" to summarize the treatment of Saddam and the people involved in the Iraqi court that condemned him. Add to this a defense of the decision as being well-grounded in a legal system that both embraces capital punishment and routinely executes its capital criminals, and what we have to necessarily conclude to this newscast is the polar opposite of the corresponding presentations by the CBC.
So here again is another example where the basic facts each "side" (if I can use that term) presents are basically the opposite of each other. Although something about this balkanization seems really clever – even seductive – I can’t think it’s too healthy. I hope it’s not a conceit to say this publicly, but I’m just not sure the average person sees these differences – and not because those differences which I see are imaginary any more than I am a uniquely observant person. I think it’s likely because most people might still not get their news from the Internet. Not quite yet (and I base that on Jupiter media’s forecast that online ad spending will only eclipse conventional paper-based spending next year). For many older than I (mid-30’s) it’s still the newspaper, TV or radio that brings the news in. And you don’t often find a plurality of views too evident in such arenas as talk radio, TV news or print news. Yes, it’s occasionally there in the "Letters to the Editor", but there is (I humbly suggest) a predominant view that drowns out any opposing views expressed.
The good news is, that the Internet makes that plurality a lot more accessible – and maybe that best explains my seeing these contrasts. And that’s healthy, I think, because the world would be a better place with people seeing the editorial underpinnings of news reports and thus being forced to make up their own minds.
So what do I think of Saddam’s execution (this site’s called more than you wanna know for a reason). Well, I, the product of this well-informed, egalitarian, new Internet-age techno-democracy – opposed as I am to the death penalty – feel pretty darned ambivalent about Saddam’s execution. My opinionatedness is will-grounded enough for this to not be the result of my somehow being numbed by too much information – rest assured. No, this is the result of me feeling that Saddam probably was a relatively terrible person with few moral poles or will to exercise good judgement politically. It is said by some (mostly on the CBC) that he did both good and bad things; to which I say as but a voice in a chorus, "so what?" Whatever good he did over the course of his life was more than many, many times upstaged by the evils he unleashed on his fellow human beings – mass murder, crimes against humanity, mass torture, genocide; these are crimes without redemption by mortal men, even were there remorse, of which there was clearly none in any case.
This afternoon, one CBC commentator (some human rights lawyer in Rome who acted in some fashion in defense of Saddam), who’d clearly lied to the production team as they contacted him by phone, got on the air and instead of answering the news anchor’s questions went on a tirade about how imperfect the trial was, about how unfair the Americans were being in granting access to people while he was in custody, about how arrangements for the body and personal effects were somehow handled in a vindictive way – again, none of it negates what he clearly was guilty of, trial or not. Although not practiced or learned in either Iraqi or international law, I’m not inclined to simply waive the entire trial on the errors of law which everyone agrees were made. The Iraqi process, if we’re going to accept the concept of the nation state (and if you’re a lawyer practiced at all with international legal matters, you pretty much have to), is obviously not one with such a lengthy appeals processes as we have here in the west. If Saddam were Canadian, I’d probably be taking the view that Saddam’s rights were not observed, and the trial was basically unfair because there’s no way one could exhaust every possible appeal inside of 30 days. (This is one of the reasons we don’t have capital punishment in Canada anymore.) But if that’s the practice in Iraq, so be it. I doubt there’s anything that might have come up in an appeal which could have silenced the critics within 30 days – and yet that’s Iraqi law.
And so, in the end, Saddam’s execution is not something I can bring myself to feel very sorry about – regardless of the legal mistakes both sides admit were made. While in the west, these would most definitely form the basis of a legal appeal (and not a tradition I’d suggest we should abandon), in this particular case, the evidence of Saddam’s guilt was pretty overwhelming. Nobody is saying or even trying to say he was innocent – whatever mistakes of law were made, don’t appear to be related to the bare facts at hand. So long as that’s true, his death can be seen as a form of justice, and isn’t something worth stewing about.
In the future, the Iraqis probably should review their legal procedures however – and insodoing also critically examine the traditions followed in the west to see if capital cases deserve a closer examination of the defendant than a mandatory 30-day limit would allow (regardless of any pertinent religious edicts on the subject).