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Have We Stooped to Saddam’s Level?

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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posted January 10, 2007 at 12:08 am

Not only is Thomas Friedman a terrible writer and an ethically bankrupt freetrader, but he is an Iraq war cheerleader who pronounced victory to be around the corner every time the quagmire became more apparent. He also, as Steven I. Weiss witnessed, can’t handle being criticized publicly. I think you’re right — now that the Iraq war is horribly unpopular, he’s trying to distance himself from it by coming out against Saddam’s execution. But you were a fool to like him in the first place. He is a class A1 twit.

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posted January 10, 2007 at 2:10 pm

“We?” Who’s this “we”? “WE” did not execute Saddam. He went through a trial in Iraq, according to the laws of Iraq, and was executed in Iraq by Iraqis following Iraqi legal guidelines. That was my understanding.

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Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow

posted January 10, 2007 at 11:03 pm

“Why stoop to his level and kill him as he so ruthlessly killed others?” That is not what happened. He was not fed into a shredding machine, as he had done to others. He was not tortured to death. He was not forced to watch his wife raped or his children tortured before his eyes–all of which he had done to others. Instead, he was permitted to carry a Koran, to have a blindfold (which he refused), and had a scark placed over his neck so as not to feel the rope. His death was, in all likelyhood, instantaneous. And yes, he absolutely remained a threat in prison. As for Wallis’ silly argument about the state sending the wrong message by punishing killing with killing, that same logic would lead to the conclusion that we should not arrest and incarcerate kidnappers, thus punishing kidnapping with kidnapping. Thank you, Rabbi Stern, for acknowledging that Saddam deserved to be put to death. I fail to see how any moral, real-world argument can be made against that fact, least of all one that uses Torah as its basis.

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posted January 13, 2007 at 5:38 am

I agree with Rabbi Sendrow;this had to be done.And,we did not execute Saddam as badly as he killed innocent victums.Also,you execute murderers as a message to other prospective killers;this is what is going to happen to you,if you kill.It clearly keeps other people from doing it,cause they do not want to be executed. AND,something I do not believe;I do not care about punishing someone,and hurting him;that’s not my objective.I believe in setting an example by capital punishment,so that others do not kill. Plus,guess what;it gets rid of the murderer!!THAT is one good thing about capital punishment;he cannot kill anymore people,not even in prison.(Which happens a lot.)I think people should be educated as to the advantages,above,of capital punishment.Some horrible person,who killed your daughter,cannot kill anyone else,if we execute him.

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