Virtual Talmud

Dear Thomas Freidman,

In the spirit of the many letters you have written over the years I have decided to write one special to you. I have always enjoyed your pieces in the Times (especially after 9/11) and find myself usually nodding my head in agreement when reading your books. But this last op-ed just did not go down so well with my morning coffee.

You seem very comfortable with the “way” we executed Saddam Hussein.

I too was a little perturbed by all the hoopla and shouting surrounding Saddam in his final moments. But what came as a shock to a foreign policy expert like you came as no surprise to a novice like me. Sadly you bemoaned that the spectacle “resembled a tribal revenge ritual rather than the culmination of a constitutional process in which America should be proud to have participated.”

Tom, can I ask you something?

So we invade Iraq, bomb Saddam’s palaces to smithereens, dig the rotten dictator up from some pit making him look like a dirty rat, put on some show trail where the judges seem to come and go faster than a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer day, and we say that all this was “justice.” All that is fine and dandy and, dare I say, “dignified.” Yet all of sudden when a noose is hanging around Saddam’s neck you get all worked up? Huh?

The notion that Saddam’s execution was “undignified”-as if there are dignified and undignified ways of hanging a human being-seems at best morally suspect. Was it dignified when America gunned down Saddam’s kids?

Tom, let’s be honest: You want to sanitize yourself from this war, a trial, and an execution with which you feel at best uncomfortable.

The killing of Saddam makes us uncomfortable with capital punishment even for someone the likes of Saddam Hussein. When you whine about the “way” in which Saddam was killed, you sound like a girl who after being dumped cries to her friends “it’s not that I am upset that he dumped me; it’s the way he dumped me.” If only we did not have to see it. Why did we have to hear those vengeful cries on the part of those watching the execution? “Justice” is never supposed to be personal its objective.

Oh please, stop making excuses Mr. Friedman. Admit it: Your stomach couldn’t handle the phone camera presentation of Saddam’s execution.

The more honest answer as to why most American’s feel uneasy about Saddam’s execution is probably what Jim Wallis’ posted on the subject:

“The extreme example of Saddam’s botched execution reveals the problem with capital punishment more generally. Justice does require punishment, but what message does the state killing to punish killing finally send? Isn’t capital punishment always more about revenge than justice? And wouldn’t it be a more fitting punishment for the Timothy McVeighs and the Saddam Husseins to be stripped of all their wealth and power, forgotten in the public memory, and subjected to menial and meaningless manual labor, in obscurity, for the rest of their lives?

Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and a mass murderer, for whom few will mourn. But he was no longer a threat in prison. Why stoop to his level and kill him as he so ruthlessly killed others? And the degrading spectacle that his execution became should revolt all of us. The mocking and taunting of Saddam on the cell-phone video will likely only further fuel the sectarian civil war already raging in Iraq. Even in death, he causes more trouble. Why was he given that opportunity?”

While I am not ready to embrace Wallis’ position fully (I still think Hussein and Eichmann deserved to be put to death), I do think that the publicity and condemnations surrounding Saddam’s execution come from a place that is just not ready accept responsibility for such a gruesome act.

–posted by Rabbi Eliyahu Stern

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