We got the news yesterday. A tribunal in Baghdad has sentenced Saddam Hussein to death by hanging. If his appeal fails, as it's likely to, he will mount a gibbet sometime in the spring of 2007, a rope will be knotted around his neck with the other end tied to a beam above his head, someone will trigger the trap door on which he's standing and the fall will tear apart the vertebrae in his neck (if he's lucky) and all sense and sensation will cease. If improperly knotted, the rope and the fall will result in his strangulation and as many watch, he will choke until his oxygen-starved brain goes to sleep and his vital organs cease to function.
I oppose the death penalty, even for a barbarian like Saddam who is said to have asked one of his colleagues to leave a cabinet meeting with him for a private chat, and then to have shot him in the head. Given reports of incidents like that, many will dismiss Human Rights Watch's (http://www.hrw.org/) claim that Saddam did not have a fair trial and will say that he didn't deserve one, given the arbitrary way in which he "tried" and executed his adversaries. To me, these are irrevalancies. Hanging is easily as barbaric as a pistol execution, maybe more so, and in applying this penalty, we seem to be saying, "Since Saddam killed people in a barbaric fashion, it's right that we should kill him in the same way." Ideally, a civilized society would never carry out executions because it would be impossible to find anyone willing to trip the trapdoor. In our world though, I suspect, there'd be a line-up for the opportunity.
I think much more would be gained by the Iraqi government if Saddam were to be kept in confinement for the rest of his life. It would demonstrate an unwillingness to descend morally into the pit where Saddam lived when he was president. It would create pressure to normalize: Saddam could not be held up as a martyr, while the new government would still be shown to have had the fortitude to try him and to hold him. Being alive, he would also serve as a reminder to Iraqi's of their recent history and the terror they endured.
Most of all, I believe that the gospel of Christ includes in its message a call to deal with human evil in new ways. Although the gospels are relatively silent on the subject of crime and punishment in the secular sphere, a follower of Jesus could hardly be the instrument for ending a life given the example of his master, for whom reconciliation, forgiveness and healing were central. Christ prayed for his executioners, we recall.
I would urge people who share the view that capital punishment is barbaric to add their voice to those of the members of organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It will be hard to raise a protest in the case of Saddam Hussein, I'm afraid, given the heinous crimes he is alleged to have committed, but in the interest of consistency, this case is as worthy of our interventions as any.