A Cautious Man
June 07, 2004
 
Killing Just to Kill
From TalkLeft comes word that the Iraqi interim government will restore the death penalty in that country. The linked article contains additional details, not mentioned in the excerpt quoted by TalkLeft. For example, the Justice Minister who stated that the death penalty was being revived, is very clear about who the likely candidate is:
"Under Saddam Hussein, there were some 120 crimes punishable by death, but we are going to narrow it down to those who, for instance, were responsible for mass graves or plundering the country's oil wealth," the minister said.
. . .

The justice minister, less than a week after his appointment, was adamant that Saddam deserved no less than the firing squad.

"Some people ask me if Saddam Hussein can escape a death sentence. For me, his case is very simple. He was the head of the armed forces and he deserted.
Now, I would guess that any lower-down officers who deserted, or otherwise left the way clear for American forces to enter Baghdad, won't be subject to the same penalty. In any event, I don't know if this is just some way for the new government to show that it is "independent", or if this has some other implication (such as a potential return to the "good old days").
The US adviser to the Iraqi justice ministry forwarded a request from the coalition for the death penalty to be abolished, but Mr Hassan said he rejected it.

"I told him the social situation and the cultural level were not the same in Iraq and his country," he stressed.

"A sentence should contain a deterrent element. The harshness of a sentence and its deterrent element should be decided on the basis of local social values."
Look, this isn't about shedding tears for Saddam Hussein. The "new Iraq" is supposed to be moving forward, becoming a modern democracy. The trend in the modern world is to move away from capital punishment. The region's most democratic country, Israel, abolished the death penalty, as did the most progressive Muslim country, Turkey. A return to capital punishment in Iraq would be consistent with the approach of "traditional" Muslim countries. In an informative article published in 2000, Professor William Schabas noted: "Although essentially all Moslem or Islamic countries retain the death penalty in their domestic law, practice varies considerably from one to another. Some, like Iran and Iraq, are enthusiastic practitioners, while others, such as Tunisia, conduct executions in only the rarest of cases. The religious argument is invoked frequently, yet the diversity of practice would suggest there is little consensus even among Moslems as to the scope of capital punishment." If we're trying to get Iraq to transform, then this is not a helpful step.

We can't know how hard the Coalition Provisional Authority pushed (if at all) to prevent the return of the death penalty. Unfortunately, the desire for revenge may have resulted in this situation. My own personal opinion is that, in a country where there has been, and may continue to be, so much death, the government should set an example and reject violence and death.

Of course, that's advice that others could take, as well.
When Saddam was captured last December, the United Nations and the European Union voiced their opposition to the idea of restoring the death penalty, but Mr Hassan remained unimpressed.

"There are still many countries like the United States that resort to the death penalty. Why shouldn't Iraq have the right to do it?" he asked.

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