At about 6:00 am Baghdad time Saturday (10:00 pm EST last night), Hussein was executed by hanging. He was convicted in Iraqi courts of ordering the 1982 deaths of some 148 Iraqis in Dujail. He is also considered responsible for the brutal deaths of literally tens of thousands of Iraqis during his reign, including a chemical action against northern Kurds resulting in upwards of 100,000 deaths.
It’s early, but so far the world’s reaction is some form of “Good riddance” or, as we sometimes say in America, “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.” So far, no one has lamented the use of capital punishment. But someone will.
It’s difficult to express outrage or even concern for the state-ordered death of a man like Saddam Hussein without sounding like a wimp, a “flaming liberal,” or worse, a sympathizer. By the same token, it’s difficult at times to express support for capital punishment, even for an evil mass murderer like Hussein, without sounding like a warmonger, a “redneck conservative,” or worse, a blood thirsty religious fanatic.
One traditional argument “for” capital punishment is that it acts as a deterrent to future crimes. Opponents of capital punishment often ably demonstrate that this goal isn’t always realized. On the other hand, it’s not necessarily cynical to observe that at least the convicted and executed individual will commit no more heinous crimes.
This is the case for Saddam Hussein. He’s dead at 69. He’s no longer a threat to the well-being of the Iraqi people. Since you cannot execute a person more than once, perhaps it is small justice to the multitudes he murdered, but it is justice nevertheless. He had his day in court, was found guilty, and was sentenced. His sad record is now complete.
Certainly the death of any human being is an occasion for sadness. No less so for Saddam Hussein. His life was not simply a waste. It was destructive. He chose evil over good, and that is a sad fact that did not have to be. So of course we shouldn’t enjoy another person’s death. But death is not God’s ultimate concern.
Biblical teaching supports capital punishment for murder (Genesis 9:6, for example), because evil exists. Capital punishment is one key way God empowers human government to establish order and justice so that we may enjoy life and liberty. What ultimately matters is not that capital punishment is always a deterrent to future crime. Rather, what matters is that God made human beings in his image and murder is a direct transgression against the Sovereign God. Capital punishment serves notice that God exists and that evil does not reign supreme.
Saddam Hussein will not be missed. His demise closes a cruel chapter in Iraq history and further liberates the Iraqi people to forge a future without Hussein’s brand of evil. In this instance, capital punishment accomplished what it was divinely ordained to accomplish. Justice.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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