As a result of the contentious Dujail Trial, Iraq has gone ahead with two more hangings. This time, state television is not broadcasting the executions, one of which ended in an accidental decapitation.

Journalists were shown a silent video recording of the process which took place overnight.

In late December, Saddam Hussein’s execution was broadcast on state television; the video was also silent. It was later revealed that the former Iraqi President was taunted and insulted as he was hanged. The revelation came from a rogue video with audio recorded on a cellphone and leaked onto the internet.

Iraqi officials are saying that these hangings were carried out appropriately and that the video will not be made public. Keeping it private makes some sense, but it also negates the necessity of showing a silent video to journalists. If Iraq’s executioners and officials have really learnt their lesson after hanging Saddam Hussein, shouldn’t members of the media be able to verify that?

Once again, Iraq is showing to not be as transparent a society as is expected from a democracy. There is no free media in Iraq and the government expects its story to be broadcast and not challenged. This is precisely why the official who leaked the video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging was arrested.

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Statues of Saddam

January 5, 2007

It was reported on Thursday that Libya will erect a statue of Saddam Hussein.

With Hussein’s assassination resembling a vendetta by one group towards another, it’s easy to understand that some will see the former Iraqi president as a martyr and Libya’s statue may not be the last to be erected. As it stands, Hussein was convicted at a questionable trial, with significant procedural inconsistencies. Other trials may have been initiated, and could have been handled better. After all, the Dujail trial convicted Saddam Hussein for his involvement of 148 deaths in the city of Dujail. By most historical accounts, the former president is responsible for many more innocent deaths, counting in the hundreds of thousands if not more.

With the hasty assassination of last Friday, other trials are no longer an option in terms of rectifying the shortcomings of the first trial. While Saddam Hussein may still be tried posthumously, he will no longer be available to defend himself.

Also, his legal defense on the eve of his death is sure to make more appearances. Why was he not considered a Prisoner of War (POW) and not tried by Iraq’s invaders (and occupiers), the US and Britain?

In fact, this question may even be asked by US officials, who are likely realizing that the new Iraqi government is showing signs of incompetence. Prime Minister Maliki certainly initiated an investigation into the handling of Hussein’s hanging, but he also did not look see to it that the death sentence be carried out professionally. After all, Iraq had 30 days to put the sentence into effect, which means that Maliki’s government would have well into January to properly prepare the hanging. With a US judge refusing to accept the POW defense, Iraq’s government quickly assassinated its former president.

The individual thought to have taped Saddam Hussein’s hanging has been arrested in Iraq. The footage, taken on a cellphone (at least one other video was made, according to an Iraqi prosecutor), has been leaked onto the Internet and was aired on Al-Jazzeera amongst other stations.

The video differs from the official video of Hussein’s death in that it includes audio and it’s clear that the former Iraqi president is being insulted by officials present at his hanging.

The government is upset at the video leak and at the uproar it has created in the Sunni population. However, the fault is not with the official who taped the execution. If Iraq is to operate as a democracy with rule of law and fair trials, as President Bush put it last week, then it cannot act like it did with Saddam Hussein. Not only was the sentencing of Hussein questionable, but its execution has now been shown to be motivated by personal feeelings.
The personal concerns of those present at the hanging should not have been voiced; as officials of the Iraqi government, it was not their place to make insulting remarks.

It is very sad to see the official who taped the assassination and leaked it arrested as the individual simply made the truth transparent and available. The leaked video contradicted official reports of Hussein’s execution.

But it seems that the new democratic Iraq does not value a free media. After all, the government had already closed down two privately owned television stations in November, with another station just closed following Hussein’s hanging.

New UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, began his new tenure cautiously on Tuesday. When asked for comment, the Secretary General did not criticize Iraq’s death by hanging of Saddam Hussein.

“The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide,” said Ban, inviting speculation on the UN’s position on the death penalty.

It is widely known that the oraganization officially opposes the death penalty. Ban’s new spokesperson, Michele Montas, was quick to label Ban’s comments as his “own nuance” on the issue and not a change of policy at the UN.

In his remarks on Hussein, the Secretary General stated that the former Iraqi president was responsible for “heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people.”

Interestingly enough, Ban did not say anything about Hussein not being tried for all of his crimes and that his second trial had not been completed. After all, Hussein’s death sentence was for relatively small incidents — considering his track record — in the city of Dujail. Those incidents, of course, were not minor, but one would expect a verdict on his use of chemical weapons and his comportment during the Iran-Iraq war. Yet Hussein was sentenced in a limited (Dujail only) and flawed trial, which has been criticized by Human Rights Watch and by a UN group.

As far as the UN position on the capital punishment is concerned, the policy is clear: no matter the degree of the crime, the organization does not support the death penalty. Ban’s comments made it seem like the death penalty was the just thing to do. In effect, Ban’s logic almost removes the UN policy, because the Secretary General simply refuses to voice it.

Is this the direction of the so-called “new UN”? While the organization has been criticized in the past (and has often faced scrutiny from the US), this does not mean that Ban must be a pushover. One of the strengths of having the UN as an International Organization, is the alternative voice it provides to the realpolitik rationale that often guides state decisions.

The UN’s policy is idealistic — Ban’s South Korea and Bush’s US will not change their laws on capital punishment because of the UN — but this does not mean that Ban must ignore it. As an ambassador of the UN, he must represent the policies of the organization. If he wants to change them, he should be transparent about them.

Instead, Ban simply left it to Michele Montas to spin his flop by calling it his “own nuance.” What is that supposed to mean anyway?

January 7, 2006. UPDATE 1: Ban Ki-moon’s comments this weekend differed from earlier in the week. The UN Secretary General has asked that Iraq postpone the execution of two Saddam Hussein aides, indicating that he is more in line with official UN policy.

Hussein Trial, a failure

November 29, 2006

After the recent severe criticism of Saddam Hussein’s trial by Human Rights Watch, experts at the United Nations have come to similar conclusions. A UN group studying arbitrary detention has deemed the trial flawed and has called Hussein’s detention illegal.

The group released its statement yesterday because it believes Hussein’s death penalty must be readdressed due to procedural inconsistencies throughout the trial.

This is not welcome news to the new Iraqi government, which oversaw the Saddam Hussein’s trial. The first significant judicial case executed under this government has now been criticized by two major organizations, one of which is an NGO, the other an IO; with time, more similar reports may be published. This is part of the reason that Iraqi PM Maliki has already stated that Hussein may be hanged by the end of 2006. The Iraqi government knows the trial was illegitimate and it wants to move on.

This is also not welcome news for the US, as it has ostensibly been supporting an Iraqi government which does not conform to standards of democratic behavior. If the US went into Iraq to bring democracy to the region, then the mission has certainly not been accomplished.