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Saddam: Punished with Justice?

The ancient rabbis who wrote the Talmud (in modern-day Falluja, incidentally) understood something very important about capital punishment that we in this country–to say nothing of those in Iraq–seem to have forgotten. It’s not that capital punishment is philosophically indefensible, as some suggest. Extreme as this sanction is, there are some crimes for which the only just punishment is death, and to my mind Saddam Hussein fully deserved to be executed.

The problem with capital punishment is that it is nearly indefensible from a practical point of vie: How do you create a system with enough safeguards to guarantee the rights of the defendant? How do you create enough certainty about the correctness of the verdict? How do you execute in a way that still protects the dignity of the victim and of the society that carries it out, and how do you ensure that the aftermath of the punishment will lead to more healing and not more recriminations?


All of these vital questions are exhaustively taken up by the rabbis who, in a brilliant act of ingenuity, proclaim the theoretical possibility of capital punishment while simultaneously putting so many safeguards in place as to make it almost impossible in practical terms. The current situation in Iraq bears witness to what happens when the rush to punish outstrips the demands of justice.

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Richard Ray Shreve, Ph.D.

posted January 13, 2007 at 3:38 pm

In all due respect to my respected Rabbi writers: My Tanakh says in a list of rules for life: Thou shall not kill. There are no conditions stated when Moses delivered these rules. Nothing said about an Eichman, Hussein, Lincoln or others like them. Rationalization and anger (I also partake)can be compelling BUT the Tanakh is absolute & clear when it says: Thou shall not…. Why is any other option considered? Is a revision of Moses in order???? As much as I can hate(with personal embarassment) I also understand the words: Thou shall not….. Shalom,RR$

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patrick l woolley

posted January 13, 2007 at 5:20 pm

what is justice? to some an eye for an eye. sadam ordered the killings to live in prison the rest of your life alone to have noyhing to think about or talk to is far more just then a quick death at the end of a rope or nedle. he had already indured the deaths of his sons so death ment nothing his fight to stay alive was to beat the justice system. in either case he lost except hanging is more brutle and scary but soon over and done with you listed in the books of history

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posted January 13, 2007 at 7:40 pm

a kurd official said the reason hussein was executed so quickly was so that during the trial it wouldn’t be revealed that the u.s. govt provided the weapons that hussein used against the population. if hussein is going to be executed for that crime so should rumsfield, former pres. reagan, and numerous other u.s. officials who cooperated with the iraq regime. oddly enough, even though this criminal was execute the violence still continues in iraq. there is still sectarian violence, still troops dying, and still civilians suffering. so what did this execution accomplish? nothing. it just was just a nice, big p.r. stunt with no results.

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Al Eastman

posted January 13, 2007 at 7:51 pm

Rabbi Waxman poses some interesting points when he asks “…How do you create a system with enough safeguards to guarantee the rights of the defendant? How do you create enough certainty about the correctness of the verdict? How do you execute in a way that still protects the dignity of the victim and of the society that carries it out, and how do you ensure that the aftermath of the punishment will lead to more healing and not more recriminations?” In a very simplistic way I will say to him no human can do all he asks, only Hashem can. As imperfect humans dealing with other imperfect humans we excercise the free will Hashem bestowed upon us. I submit every collection of imperfect humans (read “human societies”) has basic rules. For a society to have some semblance of stability, it establishes penalties for violating its rules. In our current state of “civilization”, traditional banishment is no longer a viable option. Instead, those who intentionally violate societies’ rules are “tempoarily banished” to prison or “permanently banished” by execution. As distasteful as Rabbi Waxman finds these measures, perhaps he can suggest an alternative more suited to his ideals. Finally, I may be wrong in my understanding of the English translation of the Mitzva in in Exodus 20:13 in that it reads “Thou shall not murder” or “Not slay an innocent person” rather than “Thou shalt not kill.” My sources are a 1951 JPS translation “The Holy Scriptures” and the UAHC’s 1981 “The Torah”.

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John Webb

posted January 14, 2007 at 6:17 am

Very good, Al, on “Thou shalt not murder” rather than “kill.” The Tanakh also says, “Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Also, I believe that it’s probably a proven fact that the recidivism rate for murderers who have been executed is approximately zero.

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posted January 14, 2007 at 12:33 pm

i believe that it was wrong to hang saddom he should of got live in prison who are we or the government to take any life that is up to GOD to judge

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ellen d

posted January 15, 2007 at 3:04 am

I am neither a Jew nor a Christian but I believe that evil brings eviland that to sanction murder by the State dehumanises us all. Saddam was purely evil yet I can not help but mourn for those who found satisfaction in his execution. God is meant to deal final justice. Man is to imperfect to make that final judgement. States like Texas and Florida where executions are frequet don’t seem to deter criminals. In fact they sem to flourish. People capable of great cruelty and vil should be isolated for whatever the rest of their miserable lives are.

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted January 15, 2007 at 2:19 pm

I cannot accept the concept that a man can be purely evil. Choices that people make can bring evil. Mankind has the potential to do either good or to do bad, and sometimes mankind can either do both good and bad. I have never felt that two wrongs make a right, nor have I ever felt that the end justifies the means. Saddam’s execution didn’t kill the man’s ideals. Those live on. And the execution didn’t kill the potential for others to make poor choices either. The United States has also made many poor choices, and there is innocent blood on the United States’ hands. You don’t have to go back in history to discover this. All you have to do is take a close examination at the status of the poor, elderly, and children of this nation. Who doesn’t take care of them? It isn’t Saddam. And all you have to do is remember how many American lives have now been lost in Iraq. Who sent them? It wasn’t Saddam.

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Celina Fein

posted January 17, 2007 at 6:48 pm

These are great comments, however they should be published on a broader level such as newspapers, magazines a.s.o.. If we want to make a change we must speak up, and hopefully gain approval from large enough segment of population , who will fight for a change. Otherwise, old ideas remain the same.

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