February 18, 2004

My New Gig

Itís been a little while now since Iíve published an article at Tech Central Station. But Nick Shulz was kind enough to take me on as a bi-weekly columnist. So from here on out youíll get a new column from me every two weeks.

Hereís my latest. Itís called Kill Saddam.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 18, 2004 09:13 PM
Comments

Happy for ya!

Posted by: StehenM at February 18, 2004 10:07 PM

Short and to the point. Saddam must die. Its simple: Try him, Convict him, and hang him. Just like that. The biggest problem will be whether or not you do it live, and in a public place.

Posted by: FH at February 18, 2004 10:48 PM

"In a system of limited government, the state should not have the power to murder its citizens"...

I for one do not hate the death penalty, Michael. But I have to say, this unique position of yours intrigues me: Opposing the Death Penalty on Libertarian Grounds. I've never heard anyone argue against the death penalty in that way.

I was joking with a friend the other day saying that he might as well call me a "liberal with a healthy fear of government". I've simply read too much history to NOT have a healthy fear of government. I guess you could say that it's the mix of those two forces, liberalism and the fear of unlimited government, that define my politics the most. I'm pro-war for human rights and liberal democracy, for higher taxes and a bigger welfare state but also for more privatization, and I'm one hell of a live-and-let-live social libertarian (practically one of those guys throwing meat out the windows in the movie PCU, but with much better grades).

All that having been said, and in light of it, I think you just threw everything I've ever believed about the death penalty into question with one sentence. Just thought you should know. Maybe I'll get back to you when I finally figure out where I stand.

This exact sort of thing is why I'm a political science major. Thanks.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at February 19, 2004 12:45 AM

PS...

As for the rest of the article, I couldn't agree more. There is a difference. Killing Saddam isn't empowering an unlimited State to murder its citizens. Killing Saddam is empowering citizens to murder their unlimited State.

Let the bastard fry.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at February 19, 2004 12:52 AM

I agree too. Saddam must die for what he did, but also as an example for the other genocidal freaks in the neighborhood.

Posted by: Ricky Vandal at February 19, 2004 04:35 AM

Michael: Let me ask you a question --- do you think it is Just to kill genocidal criminals? Is death the only Just response to these type of crimes?

Just trying to understand your premises. As I see it, it is Justice to kill Saddam. He is guilty without a doubt and killing him is the only moral response.

Domestically I don't support the death penalty in MOST CASES because our legal process is not - cannot be - 100% accurate since people make mistakes and are not all-knowing. We couldn't guarentee JUSTICE, and it may result in injustice. So our system is set up to protect the innocent. But if it does hang rapists and murderers, that really are guilty, then it is Just.

So, to wrap this up, do you feel that killing is Just for some crimes (as in Saddam's)? Or just that it is politically a good thing to do?

Also do you think those who are against killing Saddam are:

1) Confusing the means with the ends, i.e. that the purpose is law is not Justice, but law; so if the law says the innocent must be protected because in general we don't know 100% if someone is really guilty, Saddam must be protected (even if we KNOW he is guilty and not innocent)

or

2) That they believe there is no crime in which killing the criminal is Just (even if we have 100% knowledge that the guilty is really guilty), i.e. killing someone is always unjust.

Great article, keep up the good work.

Posted by: ex-democrat at February 19, 2004 06:10 AM

"Michael: Let me ask you a question --- do you think it is Just to kill genocidal criminals? Is death the only Just response to these type of crimes?"

It'd be great to let Saddam live and see his people create a country that his smallness never would tolerate. But as MT says in the column, he has a fan club, not only with the former Ba'athists who were in on his gravy train, but also the other thugs of the world, the people who WANT to be the thugs of the world (e.g., Galloway, ANSWER), etc.

It would be a form of justice for him to live and suffer. But for his former "subjects,” it’s more costly to suffer him to live. And they deserve justice far more than he does.

Posted by: Bill at February 19, 2004 07:35 AM

The assertion that the death penalty does not deter is refuted rather decisively by this study done by three professors at Emory University. If there is better evidence extant it would be helpful if it were produced. Otherwise, inserting "In my opinion" prior to laying a secondary predicate as a "given" might be in order.

Posted by: Rick Ballard at February 19, 2004 07:57 AM

How would they kill Saddam anyway?

Personally I think if it's left up to the Iraqis they'll just shoot him. Something quick and simple so that everyone can move on with their lives.

Posted by: sam at February 19, 2004 08:04 AM

I would prefer something icky (e.g. give him the Mussolini-treatement -- hanging him by his feet and letting the mob kick him to death)...

"Men ought either to be indulged or utterly destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate, so that the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared." Niccolo Machiavelli

Posted by: ex-democrat at February 19, 2004 08:11 AM

Clear and to the point. If the civilized world has to resort to rough justice occasionally, so be it. Noble yet naive attempts at setting a place at the table for the world's barbarians always seems to end up with the barbarians threatening other dinner guests and the host with the cutlery.

Posted by: Cosmo at February 19, 2004 08:38 AM

P.S. Admirable notions of mercy and fairness often translate differently in the more Hobbesian neighborhoods of the planet -- as signs of weakness and invitations to aggression. We can deal with the world as it is and seek to improve it, or deal with the world as we wish it to be and end up snookered and living on our knees.

Posted by: Cosmo at February 19, 2004 08:48 AM

ex-democrat: So, to wrap this up, do you feel that killing is Just for some crimes (as in Saddam's)? Or just that it is politically a good thing to do?

I think in this case it's necessary. Executing a common killer might be desirable, as far as some people are concerned, but if he's in a cell forever it isn't strictly necessary. With Saddam it's necessary.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 19, 2004 09:34 AM

Coz:

alternatively, "Mercy towards the Guilty = Treason towards the innocent."

Posted by: Bill Capehart at February 19, 2004 09:35 AM

Michael -- I'll look forward to reading your columns. I also hope you'll have the inclination to provoke the choir, as neccessary on occasion, in addition to preaching to them.

I am just as eager as you that Saadam mosey on over into the next world. I'm disappointed that you don't deal in the article with the issue of who should send him there. It is of vital importance that Iraqis do the deed. More precisely, it is of vital importance that a new Iraqi independent judiciary (neither exclusively Shiite, Sunni, or Kurd), incorporating indigenous socio-cultural features (i.e. Islamic and Arab jurisprudence) with "Western", no UNIVERSAL standards such as due process and right to counsel. It's all about creating a decent, democratic nation in the heart of the Arab world, the most important objective we have, and it may take some time. Better to wait and do it right rather than hold a summary execution that could come back to haunt us and give Iraqis no ownership of the action. There is no evidence that Saadam was connected to the terrorists currently active in Iraq in any way except spiritually.

Posted by: markus rose at February 19, 2004 10:07 AM

I can imagine a mausoleum on the order of Lenin's or Mao's tombs (one of Saddam's ex-palaces), where hundreds or thousands of Iraqi citizens line up everyday for the chance, not to genuflect before his preserved corpse, but to touch the bottom of their shoes, gently but symbolically, to his supine living self, strapped to the floor--with 15-minute exercise breaks every couple hours. Of course, the security situation would have to improve a good bit before that would be feasible.

Posted by: Joel at February 19, 2004 10:17 AM

Why does Saddam deserve due process and right to counsel? We know he is guilty. To give him "rights" is a slap in the face to millions who were robbed of their rights. He gave up any claim to rights through his actions.

But don't worry, he will get a sham trial that will satisfy no one. Right-thinking people will know it is unncessary and the anti-US folks would claim it is unjust no matter what happens.

"There is no evidence that Saadam was connected to the terrorists currently active in Iraq in any way except spiritually."

Precisely why the pragmatist in me thinks he should die. A humiliating end at the end of a rope would kill any Baathist fantasy of Saddam rising back into power.

Posted by: ex-democrat at February 19, 2004 10:18 AM

Ex-democrat -- Here's the objective, the ONLY important one: stop terrorists BEFORE they detonate dirty bombs or bioweapons in America or elsewhere. And in that regard, I submit that we have a hell of a lot more important things to be doing than executing a former tinpot dictator (albeit, a saidistic one), in the process letting a proud people, who nevertheless lacked the ability to overthrow him themselves, and a sceptical world who SHOULD be our partner in the war on terror, who "the real boss" is. It's time to cut the macho shit.

Posted by: markus rose at February 19, 2004 10:46 AM

Markus: I'm disappointed that you don't deal in the article with the issue of who should send him there. It is of vital importance that Iraqis do the deed.

I agree. And the reason I didn't focus on this is because it already seems settled that the Iraqis will do it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 19, 2004 10:48 AM

This isn't about the death penalty, this is about Saddam Hussein. And the people most qualified to judge - and sentence him - are the Iraqis. Not his fellow Baathist thugs, but the whole people. There should be a Kurdish judge and a Sunni judge on the panel.

I have no doubt whatever that they'll figure out exactly how to deal with him. (Did anybody see the Web-circulating video of the Iraqi bombers executed by bombs?)

As long as he's alive, there will be followers who will demand his release.

Saddam chose his course and that of his country. To quote an old movie line, he chose poorly.

Posted by: Mike at February 19, 2004 10:50 AM

I agree with your objective but not with your assessment.

This has nothing to do with "macho shit" and Saddam is far from just a "tinpot dictator" (nice cliches) - he is the KEY symbol in the Baathist and Islamicist mythos. His final humiliation and utter destrution is to our gain. His very exsitance will mock any attempt at democracy, rule of law or liberty in Iraq. This threat must be removed ASAP. .

The "rest of the world" (i.e. newspeak for France and the anti-american intellectual class) won't care as he has already ceased to be a useful business partner.

Posted by: ex-democrat at February 19, 2004 10:58 AM

I oppose the death penalty except in cases of war crimes or terrorism (if there's a difference), but I believe in those cases, society at large only gets the right to call for the death penalty AFTER a fair and balanced trial. How much potential turmoil a trial might cause is no excuse for foregoing one.

Also, as much as I too believe Saddam should die for his crimes, the photo on that website is offensive. A man strapped in an electric chair is not some emoticon or clip art to be thrown in as graphic design...the vicitms of Hussein deserve more respect than that if nothing else.

Posted by: Edward at February 19, 2004 11:39 AM

Edward: the photo on that website is offensive.

Writers don't generally have any control over graphics. Not just at TCS, but everywhere else too.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 19, 2004 12:18 PM

Excellent article Michael! I couldn't agree more. This time of war, a time of crisis, is not the time to play in Derrida word salad. I'm so glad your straight and yet eloquent style is being recognized. It's needed.

Posted by: Cara Remal at February 19, 2004 12:26 PM

Markus: I'm disappointed that you don't deal in the article with the issue of who should send him there. It is of vital importance that Iraqis do the deed.

Michael: I agree. And the reason I didn't focus on this is because it already seems settled that the Iraqis will do it.

Wait a second ... I think there's a contradiction here.

Michael, your argument on TCS is that Saddam should be executed immediately. There won't be a legitimate Iraqi government until the end of 2004 at the earliest, and not even a sovereign-but-not-very-legitimate government until July 1st.

For Markus' philosophical statement to be made, it should be a legitimate, democratically elected government that executes Saddam. So, do you kill Saddam now (based on what he deserves), or wait 10 months (based on what makes the best statement about democracy)?

Also, I think the point about guerrillas demanding Saddam's release is thoroughly unsupported. Hussein was captured two months ago, and I haven't heard of anyone demanding his release yet. With all the legitimate reasons for executing Saddam, why assert imaginary ones?

Posted by: Swopa at February 19, 2004 12:33 PM

I agree with this article. But your love affair with Christopher Hitchens has got to end.

Posted by: bob at February 19, 2004 12:35 PM

But your love affair with Christopher Hitchens has got to end.

Unless the mayor of Portland, OR, has plans similar to Gavin Newsom's in San Francisco.

(rim shot)

Posted by: Swopa at February 19, 2004 01:16 PM

Swopa: I think the point about guerrillas demanding Saddam's release is thoroughly unsupported.

Terrorists have been taking hostages and demanding the release of their imprisoned comrades for decades. Hardly anyone would be surprised if they tried a stunt like that to free Saddam.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 19, 2004 01:44 PM

> One of Saddam's daughters in Jordan recently huffed about his capture:
> "Where is the immunity that presidents enjoy?"

My answer: "Buried in an undiscovered mass grave somewhere."

Posted by: kp at February 19, 2004 10:49 PM

Well at least the article started out on the right track . . .

But, you are definitely on to something here. Why does the U.S. need to waste our time pretending there was a legitimate reason to attack Iraq and capture Saddam? If they just walked in with that phoney baloney WMD excuse, why have a trial? It's complete nonsense. Finish the job. Kill Saddam.

Posted by: Libertarian Jackass at February 20, 2004 12:25 AM

Yes, SH should be killed, he would be a threat otherwise. The question is, what method of dispatch to use, and whom to be the executioner.

I elect death by firing squad, to be performed by Iraqi volunteers. A lottery could be held choosing a squad representing his victims. This way, all that suffered by him, could feel their fingers on the trigger!

Erase this plague on humanity!

Posted by: Scott Mauldin at February 20, 2004 12:46 AM

MJT,

Besides, a dead criminal is no less dangerous than a caged one.

Is Mumia Abu-Jamal dangerous? You could make the same argument about him if you want to stretch things reeeeeeeaaaal far:

He is no mere criminal. He's the political leader of a murderous ideology with active followers who are not with him in that cage.

The guy was made an honorary citizen of Paris which is an honor last bestowed on Pablo friggin' Picasso. Mumia and Pablo. Take a moment to contemplate that absurdity.

http://www.mumia2000.org/paris.html

Posted by: HA at February 20, 2004 04:12 AM

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