So George W. Bush got his man. The American government handed over Bush's vengeance totem to a street gang of taunting thugs, who wrapped his neck in a thick hang-knot, taunted him over arcane differences in ancient Muslim politics, chanted the name of killer cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and dropped him to a brutish death from a cheap sheet-metal gallows. Black ski masks made the macabre scene look like something out of Spielberg's Munich; the cheap camera phone video gave the execution an air of casual brutality. And the sleeping President awakens in luxurious sheets and pronounces himself satisfied that justice has been served.
This is justice, American-style? A cheap, showy lynching in a concrete-block shack with guards in second-hand leather jackets and loose, open collars, chosen for their own particular stake in vengeance? This is what our President demands of our soldiers? That they hold a prisoner in secret American custody through a circus trial and virtually no appeal, acting on the orders of a weak and small-minded prime minister and deliver Saddam to his killers just 20 minutes before his death?
Listen. Don't shy away from the video, from the still photographs, from the corpse, from the accounts of the "witnesses." You owe that to the families of the nine American servicemen whose deaths were announced the very day of Saddam's long drop. Look at the tawdry, vengeful murder and mourn. Not for Saddam Hussein, a murderous tyrant who faced a tyrant's back-alley execution at the hands of a mob, as many have since the days of Robespierre. Mourn for your country, for your system of justice. Mourn for the bit of our own honor that swung from the rope in Iraq.
UPDATE: There are some wonderful, thoughtful posts out there on the Saddam hanging. Christy Hardin Smith's point of view as a former prosecutor and defense attorney is a must-read. Here's a taste (read it all):
As I read through the news articles on the Saddam hanging this morning, it was that lack of human compassion, even on any level, that struck me as somehow unseemly, as undignified and as uncivilized, barbaric even. That feeling of someone being thrown to the lions, no matter how deserving of punishment, while the masses look on and cheer at the tearing from limb to limb — the disgusting spectacle of bread and circuses, set to a theme song and a hasty graphics design on the 24-hour news networks.
"This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur--phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us."
And Fareed Zakaria has it right in Newsweek:
The saga of Saddam's end—his capture, trial and execution—is a sad metaphor for America's occupation of Iraq. What might have gone right went so wrong.