I know that Iraqis – at least, Kurdish and Shi’as – are rejoicing that Saddam will hang. But that aside, the idea that someone should die for past political actions better fits a tinpot dictatorship than a modern democracy. Ironically it’s exactly what’s going on in Iraq, but the trial of Saddam was supposed to be a place that still emulated the long-vanished dream of a free Iraq.
Dr. Charles explains what exactly happens at a hanging:
If spinal cord injury is not the immediate cause then occlusion of the major blood vessels to the brain usually is. Both venous and arterial blockage contribute to death. When the internal jugular veins are collapsed the brain swells and and chokes off the small vessels feeding the substance of the brain. The carotid arteries, which deliver oxygen rich blood, take more force to collapse given their deeper position in the neck and the higher pressures of blood flowing within. When cerebral circulation is compromised in any event, death occurs within 4-5 minutes. The heart may continue to beat autonomously for up to 10-15 minutes (since it has its own pacemaker) after the brain is no longer resurrectable. The body and limbs may move after death because of nervous and muscular reflexes. The face becomes blue and engorged.
Governments have the tendency to muzzle people who don’t respond with the approved emotional appeal. I’ve linked to the New York Times article saying that people are rejoicing. But that’s entirely anecdotal, just like the heart-wrenching stories of families of OKC victims who swore they wanted to see McVeigh put to death. The US government made sure the only relatives who could tell their story were those who supported the death penalty. It’s understandable that Iraqis who don’t want to see more anyone killed, even if it’s Saddam, will be less vocal now than the Iraqis who want Saddam dead.
There’s no real reason to execute Saddam. It won’t deter other dictators. No dictator ever considers the possibility he’ll be arrested and executed when contemplating massacres. The chance that the dictator in question will be overthrown and killed by mobs or assassinated dwarfs the chance that he’ll be executed. And apparently, it won’t provide closure to victims, either.
So the only remaining reason to execute him is revenge. And in the context of the American occupation of Iraq, it’s especially important, since it beats doing something to make the country better. Executing Saddam will unify Iraq for a few minutes, and provide the US with a moral victory. It won’t feed the hungry or turn the lights on or stop the bloodshed. It’s bread and circuses for the masses, in lieu of anything that will really do something.