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Hussein and Eichmann: Two Hangings, Big Differences

The entire war in Iraq has been one big tragedy deceptively perpetrated by President Bush. The American people should hold him accountable. That said, Rabbi Stern is missing the point when he thinks the issue surrounding Hussein’s execution is an aversion to capital punishment. It is not.

There are many, myself included, who generally oppose capital punishment because, in our current legal system, race and economic class disproportionately determine the rate of death sentences in this country. This is particularly chilling when evidence later exonerates a defendant. One cannot correct such an error once a death sentence is carried out, which is why our rabbinic sages were so loathe to enact it. That is different than the trial of an individual guilty of genocidal acts.


What troubled me about the death sentence in Saddam Hussein’s case was that the appeal decision to hang him was based on his killing a few hundred rather than the multitudes he murdered.

The real shame of the matter, though, and what makes so many of us uncomfortable, was the way his death was handled. His abuse at the gallows by his Shiite guards serves to fan the flames of continued sectarian violence in Iraq. This is what Thomas Friedman was so accurately referring to as a tribal revenge ritual.

There has been some chatter comparing Hussein’s death to that of another war criminal, the architect of Hitler’s Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann. Both men deserved to be executed for their crimes. However, Rabbi Jack Riemer points out that the way in which both were executed was completely different.


Israel appointed Jewish guards for Eichmann from Yemen and other Arab countries, realizing that he would be safe from abuse in their hands rather than in the hands of European Jews whose families Eichmann had been responsible for torturing and murdering. After Eichmann was executed, his body was cremated and his ashes scattered in the sea so his grave could neither be defaced nor become a pilgrimage site for supporters.

That is the difference between a civilized society that respects the honor due every human being as a child of the same God (i.e. Israel), even that of a murderer with the blood of six million souls on his hands, and a chaotic one that does not (i.e. Iraq). That difference makes me proud to be a Jew and terrified of what will ultimately become of the Pandora’s box President Bush has opened in Iraq.

–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

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Henry Baugh

posted January 12, 2007 at 6:27 pm

Dear Rabbi Grossman, I believe that I have always been against the death penalty. Here in Texas we lead the nation in death penalty activity. Harris county contributes more victims to Texas death row than any of the other 254 counties of the state. My last count was 159 out of 432 total. This leads me to believe that a capital crime committed in the big city is more than 80% likely to be given the death penalty. Could this be the apathy many feel living so close together? Are the many living in rural areas more at peace with themselves than those living in the cities? Politics,where ever it is found, seems to evoke those who feel it necessary to adorn themselves with as much blood as possible to demonstrate how tough they are on criminals and crime. We allow them latitude and excuse their antics in their quest for political promotion. This brings to mind two very noteworthy cases that the parallels are remarkably similiar: Cameron W. Willingham and Ernest Willis were accused of murder by arson. Each one had a child of theirs die in the two separate fires. Each was given a death sentence. In both cases evidence given my the states expert witness Manuel Vasquez that an accellerant had been used. He had deduced this from the fact that crazed glass was found at the scene. The result of this testimony was that both were given a sentence of death. Gerald Hurst of Cambridge University Chemist proved that crazed glass in no way evidence of accellerants. Cameron W. Willingham was executed Dec. 9, 2004. Ernest Willis was released 2004. Mr. Vasquez’s records show that he has declared more that 60% of the fires he investigated to be arson in nature. Further, he claims that all he has to do in investigating the cause of the fire is to listen to the fire itself and the ashes it leaves. Sad!

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posted January 13, 2007 at 5:27 am

I agree with the rabbi.However,the whole situaltion in Iraq seems to be out of control of America.So,this abuse is just part of it.America is mishandling Iraq situation completely anyhow.It DOES make a difference how someone is executed.However,I am not surprised by human being’s behavior when they execute someone.Most of them are barbaric,and cruel in the manner that they execute.I am in favor of capital punishment,but yes,it is often done badly.

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posted January 14, 2007 at 7:43 am

Because of the way so many are unjustly executed in the U.S., with racism, with convictions based on ONE unreliable witness and other travesties, Rav Soloveitchik taught that ALL American Jews should oppose the death penalty.

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posted January 16, 2007 at 11:22 am

The state is the abstracted hand and will of the citizenry. Do you feel comfortable with the blood of innocents upon your hands? If not, then fight the death penalty. There is no redress for the wrongly executed as their is for the wrongly imprisoned.

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