« An eventful holiday week in the circuits | Main | A New Year's tradition for law geeks »

December 31, 2006

The uncut Saddam's execution video and death penalty aesthetics

All over the blogosphere, one can now access an uncut video of Saddam Hussein's hanging.  Here's one of many links, along with commentaries from folks at TalkLeft, Appellate Law & Practice and Capital Defense Weekly.  S. COTUS at AL&P has this provocative statement with the link:

Anyone who favors the death penalty, or the procedure applied in this case, should watch this and share it with their children.  If you can't stand to watch it or you won't show it to your children, you need to re-evaluate your position.  US lawyers approved of the procedure and authorized the hand-over of Saddam....  Hopefully, this will encourage the videotaping and dissemination of future executions in the US, so that they can be shown in schools, and future generations can have an honest discussion about the merits of the death penalty.

I have a mixed reaction to these matters of death penalty aesthetics in general and the Saddam execution in particular. 

First, there are a lot of acts many would condone as worthwhile that we sensibly do not want to watch or share with our children: e.g., slaughtering of animals for food, required amputation of human limbs, violent acts in a justifiable war.  The fact that we may be squeamish about certain sights and want to shield children does not conclusively make a case against an activity.  (I doubt many folks would readily watch (or show children) a video of their parents engaged in consensual sexual relations, but few would argue this suggests a need to re-evaluate our position on such activity.)

Second, compared to what is shown at the local multiplex and in action video games and even in most episodes of CSI, the Saddam execution video strikes me as quite tame.  I concur that everyone interested in death penalty debates should watch this video in order to get a sense of death penalty aesthetics.  I also think it would be valuable to have video recordings of all executions; I do believe sunlight (or camcorder light) is one of the best disinfectants.  (I can't help but wonder how many lethal injection executions were botched before we started watching them closely.) 

I encourage all viewers to use the comments here to share reactions or insights.

December 31, 2006 at 11:10 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e200d83463be1569e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The uncut Saddam's execution video and death penalty aesthetics:

» Will You Watch the Saddam Hanging Video? from A Stitch in Haste
Sentencing Law & Policy wants to know:I concur that everyone interested in death penalty debates should watch this video in order to get a se... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 31, 2006 12:30:00 PM

Comments

1. I disagree with your first point. Some things like amputating limbs or parents having sex may be gross for some people to watch, but no one has any serious moral objections to those things, and no one's harmed against their will. I.e. there's no serious argument to be made that people who fail to object to medical operations or consensual intercourse bear some sort of guilt.

The slaughter of animals, and the execution of criminals, though, are different. People who eat animals or approve of the death penalty do so over the serious moral objections of others, and it's not wrong to suggest that these people should confront the consequences of their position.

2. To state the obvious, this is different from video games and movies because it's real. Watching people get tortured or hacked to bits in movies and video games doesn't bother me because I know it's not real. Watching Mel Gibson pretend to face his imminent death is quite different from watching Saddam face his actual imminent death. I remember shuddering at the grainy footage from WWII films of Nazis executing people because I knew that I was watching a real person die. I think the reality factor makes all of the difference.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 31, 2006 11:31:22 AM

I watched it linked from AL&P before coming over here. I was pro-capital punishment before and remain so. I hadn't planned to watch the video, but if there's some demand that I do so to be credible, no problem.

If we're going to be making a fair propaganda piece, we ought to splice the execution video onto the end of a montage of Kurds dying and Saddam smiling. And if we want American juries informed about what death looks like, then we should encourage more gory appeals to emotion by the prosecution too.

Is hanging still allowed in the United States? Last I remember some fat guy couldn't be hanged because his death might be messy. But another fat guy couldn't be injected because his death might hurt. Note to self: eat more before going on my crime spree. Or less if I don't want to spend life in prison.

Posted by: John Carr | Dec 31, 2006 12:06:36 PM

I forced myself to watch the Nick Berg beheading mainly because I could not conceptualize it in my imagination -- I literally had to see it to grasp it. And also to remind myself what kind of barbarians we are dealing with.

But a hanging? I just watched one on "The Sopranos" last week. I don't see how watching a real one will enlighten me.

Posted by: KipEsquire | Dec 31, 2006 12:23:45 PM

Since most people agree that sex between married people and voluntary amputation of limbs by consenting adults is moral, I don’t think we need to address the issue of whether people need to watch these. But, perhaps a better question is whether the electorate evaluating a war should be faced with (sanitized) images of coffins (the subject of a silly debate at a certain message board) or soldiers with amputated limbs.

Personally, on an almost daily basis I see the effects of military deaths and the maiming of soldiers. Yes, my thoughts on the morality of the current war have been clouded (or, if you prefer, informed) by the sight of maimed soldiers and coffins. Likely, if I lived in an area without a high concentration of maimed soldiers and military graves, I would feel differently. In fact, I have to admit that I was quite enthusiastic about the war when the coffins and amputees were not returning home, because I was convinced that this war would be clean, hygienic, and fought mostly by remote control and elite forces that could do anything with few casualties. Boy was I wrong.

As to other “violent acts” in a justifiable war, yes, I think that we should know about them, and understand what is happening. Strangely Senator Kerry was condemned for stating that he was shocked that Americans in the Vietnam war had become so barbarian. But, his “shock” is nothing more than a moral revolution at what his fellow citizens had been forced to do because of the nature of the war. I suppose, if a better justification had been offered for the Vietnam War, I could balance his revolution against the need to defend my way of life. Alas, that didn’t really happen when the future Senator Kerry was testifying.

People who eat meat should have to watch animals slaughtered. Although I personally don’t eat meat, I do not necessarily think it is immoral. However, most people who eat meat really don’t know what goes into it, so in order to make an informed decision about the meat they should watch the entire pasture (or crate – if you like veal) to table process.

Although there is a little more transparency in our prisons, they are mostly closed off from public view. Most people don’t really know what constitutions prisoners really live in. Sometimes there are sanitized documentaries released for public consumption. But, few want to have a serious conversation about the daily realities of prison and how most prisons demean whoever enters them. Yes, some people should be demeaned. Yes, some prisons do genuinely rehabilitate people. But, for the most part, they do not operate in the open.

As to the “Mel Gibson” argument, I don’t think it applies. First of all, Mel Gibson is just pretending to be tortured or killed, so his depictions are of little importance to the electorate. (Actually I have not seen any of his movies apart from “Lethal Weapon.”) Second, to the extent that his actions depict things upon which people can be called upon to make a moral judgment, most of his recent movies involve things beyond the jurisdiction of the US – i.e. they happened many years before there even was a United States. Third, Mel Gibson does not exercise state power, so even if his actions are somehow a depiction of something with a moral character, the citizenry is not really helped govern by watching him.

Regarding the Nick Berg beheading, I think we all agree that it was immoral. But, as an American, I can’t really make an intelligent choice about it. After all, it is highly unlikely that American soldiers or lawyers engineered it in the way they engineered the execution of Saddam.

In Constitutional terms, the problem is thus: We have a vibrant 1st and 6th amendment, which assures us that the electorate can, at some level, weigh in on what sort of crimes are being committed and what sort of punishments should be provided. Even though the executive and some lawyers have taken various positions which indicate that jurors should not be allowed to sit in judgment over people it really doesn’t like, because they might not be convinced by the arguments of government attorneys, the past few years have seen increased vitality in the jury trial. On the other hand, the debate over the 8th amendment is shrouded in secrecy. While apologists for states with death penalties will constantly prattle on about how it is their citizens’ democratic “choice” to put condemned people to death, they vehemently resist all attempts to televise executions. With today’s technology, it is cheap to produce and distribute a video of anything.

Again, although the executive has taken the position that some people might be erroneously acquitted, and so should not have trials, most states have become comfortably with public trials, since, at a minimum, they give the state an opportunity to further condemned the accused by providing all sorts of evidence regarding just how bad his deeds and personality is. But, setting aside the executive’s recent experiment with eliminating jury trials, those in favor of the death penalty seem to resist all attempts to continue the public scrutiny past a sanitized courtroom where bleeding from the mouth is considered alarming or contemptuous.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 31, 2006 12:33:51 PM

Mr. Carr,

Just a quick note: I don’t know if a single time an authenticated videotape of a murder has been held to be inadmissible in the US. If such video is available, prosecutors are free to use it. (The only gray areas involve post-crime evidence which often assumes its own conclusion and incorporates certain behaviors of the human body that kick in regardless of whether the cause of death was illegal or not.)

This isn’t a matter of propaganda. We have all seen footage of dead Kurds. In fact, I see this as simply a matter of generating a record by which people in a democratic society can base their policy choices on. To splice videos together manipulates people. Heck, I could splice together a theatrical production of lots of stuff to justify just about anything. Even the death penalty for meat-eaters.

My point is simply that we should have access to all evidence so we can balance the videos of the Kurds against the videos of Saddam. And we should be able to scrutinize the record of trials to see whether the punishment of death – in practice, not in the abstract -- really fits the crime. It may very well be that you will not be swayed in your opinion, but my hope is that we will reach conclusions with full (or fuller) information.

Oh, and should you care, courtesy of the Library of Congress, I found a couple of photos of executions, including one that appears to be carried out, under US jurisdiction, by a child. I don't expect to change your mind on this subject, and I respect that you have come to your conclusions based upon an honest weighing of the factors.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 31, 2006 1:39:02 PM

I'm not a fan of garroting (which is pictured in S.cotus' link). Seems to me the guillotine is probably the most humane method in practice, considering the inexplicable inability of states to make effective use of drugs.

I'm all for having _available_ videos or images of executions, or prison conditions in general for that matter. Perhaps executions should be public. I don't think we need to make them required viewing.

Posted by: John Carr | Dec 31, 2006 2:40:06 PM

Perhaps “requiring” people to view it is going a bit far. But, since schools routinely discuss social issues – namely crime and punishment – a video of an execution would seem to do the trick

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 31, 2006 2:48:09 PM

I think perhaps you miss the point of viewing this tape, or of any other execution. What the real question is, is what either your objection to the death penalty is, or why one favors it. If one favors it as a deterrent, then we know it is a failure. NY, which has not had an execution in a generation, has seen a significant decline in murders, while other jurisdiction [such as TX] which will execute women, children and the retarded has had no such similar decline. If one favors the death penalty as a "just punishment" for the crime committed, then it would seem there should be some uniformity thruout the nation. There is not. I personally am opposed to the death penalty. While I agree with Hannah Arendt in "Eichmann in Jerusalem", outside of perhaps the Rwandan genocide in 1994, we have not had such a mass extermination since WWII. I find the death penalty morally and ethically reprehensible. I have clients who are in prison for life [federal, so no parole], and in solitary confinement. This is a much more horrible existence then ending the offender's life in 10 seconds.
I did watch the video, like most people will. But, I also slow down and rubber-neck at auto accidents, and watch NASCAR waiting for the crash. Does this mean that I am a morbid person? I think not. I think, and this is best left to the psychiatrists, that it is human curiosity that makes us watch. Wehther it is the child stuck in the well, or the bridge jumper. It certainlt does not mean that we fovor suicide, or hope for gorey deaths in auto crashes.

Posted by: Bernie Kleinman | Dec 31, 2006 4:32:47 PM

Saw the video, didn't bother me at all. Not feeling real bad that Saddam is dead. It was far more humane than the hundreds of thousands of victims of his regime wasn't it?

Posted by: Max Conservative | Dec 31, 2006 4:56:21 PM

I don't get the argument about slaughtering of animals. My wife grew-up on a farm and death was a dailty event. Only city-people have problems with death, which one can see in our society's complete fear of death and dying in all respects. But more to the point: what does slaughtering of animals have to do with the execution of a brutal man like Hussian? What I find so disturbing, however, is how so many people want to exclude the death penalty despite its support by most Americans. We are a democracy aren't we? (a republic I know). Isn't interesting how so many "higher minded" folks seem to know better than everyone else and wish to impose their beliefs on all of us? Saddam got what he deserved, just like all those who receive the death penalty in the US and this stark fact is what the death penalty opponents can't stand. Go live on a farm and get back in touch with realty please.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 31, 2006 6:18:33 PM

Steve, I am not sure that Americans really “support” the death penalty. Depending on how you ask the question, the percentage of Americans “supporting” it will give different answers. There are various objections to the death penalty which can be incorporated into the question, e.g. the impossibility of correction of error or the inherent cruelty of the exercise. Compounding the problem is the fact that many states never have to fully address to death penalty, because, as the above poster pointed out, states with the death penalty on the books often don’t use it, so it is easy to “support” it without actually having to carry it to its logical conclusion. On the other hand, the voters in Texas seem comfortable with the means and method of killing, as well as a fairly high error rate. So, their choices are probably somewhat more informed than the choices of a New Englander whose main contact with the death penalty is a single inmate who was just begging to be executed, anyway.

Of course people fear dying. I think this is true in the city or country.

The fact that your wife saw (and perhaps participated) in the killing of animals on a daily basis doesn’t make it any more or less moral. However, the parallel that Professor Berman was drawing was thus:
I argue that in order to fully support the death penalty on a moral basis in a Democratic system, one must witness executions. Professor Berman argues that one need not necessarily gruesome witness things to conclude that they are moral, and he provided the examples of 1) sex between married people; 2) killing animals; and 3) consensual amputations. In return, I argue that there isn’t too much of a debate that #1 and #3 are moral, so there is no need to expose them to democratic scrutiny, and I think that all people that eat meat should watch animals go from the pasture (where they romp and play) to the dinner table before they can make an informed judgment.

The rest of your argument is somewhat political, because it seems to take issue with the process of people attempting to impose moralities on each other. Welcome to the USA, this is done every day. All I am suggesting is that we go about this with full information.

Whether Saddam got what he “deserved” is completely irrelevant to the discussion of whether the debate about the inherent cruelty of the death penalty should be exposed to public scrutiny via publicity.

Indeed, I think that all death penalties (even though of arguably legally or factually innocent people) should be televised, and made available.


Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 31, 2006 6:41:41 PM

"If one favors [the death penalty] as a deterrent, then we know it is a failure." -- Bernie Kleinman

"It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so." -- Will Rogers

Deterrence is a complex question and cannot be answered with the simple numbers you throw off. There are a whole stack of fairly recent studies finding a deterrent effect. There are some more recent criticisms of those studies, and the replies to the criticisms are coming out. Few, if any, thoughtful people familiar with the evidence will say that the case is definitely proven one way or the other.

If you like simple numbers, though, here are a couple. Which state executed the largest portion of its murderers from the restoration of capital punishment until 2004? Which state had the greatest drop in murder rate in 2004 compared to the moratorium period? The answer to both questions is Delaware.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 31, 2006 8:16:34 PM

I see that there are at least two "Steve"'s posting here. I agree with Prof. Berman's previous posts that our scholarlly focus on the death penalty is misplaced: Far more injustice is done with non-captial cases as Bill Stuntz points out in his latest Harvard L R Article. Nonetheless, I disagree with S.cotus -- I believe that most polls show that Americans support the death penalty. There maybe good moral arguements to oppose the death penalty, but we should all be fearful of judicial opinions that argue that "evolving standards of decency" call for its prohibition. As Justice Scailia pointed out in Ropper v. Simmons, what constituties a majority standard should mean more than a handful of states. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: Steve E. | Dec 31, 2006 8:21:39 PM

Kent, deterrence also goes to the mind of the miscreant perpetrating the act. I have been practicing criminal defense law for 30+ years, and I have never had a client who broke the law thinking he would get caught. I have represnted many drug dealers who, if I asked them, would have said "yes I knew if got caught I would go to prison for 20+ years", but they still did it anyway. It is human nature to think that you will get away with it. You are right that nos. are deceiving, and should not be over-utilized. And, let's not forget that the law is an evelving subject. In Eng. in the early 19th cent. there were a host of crimes for which the death penalty was exacted. Eventually it was recognized that this was wrong, and juries would refuse to convict on this basis. We are now moving to the point that children and the mentlly retarded should not be executed. [Except in Texas - how did the President avoid the latter then??] Anyway, I guess, it just comes down to one's heart-felt beliefs. To me, the state should never take another's life. But, that is just my opinion.

Posted by: Bernie Kleinman | Dec 31, 2006 9:02:33 PM

I appreciate that Mr. Scheidegger understands that statistics won’t tell the whole story. I don’t think, Mr. Kleinman, that he emphatically supports the view that jail and the death penalty are really effective deterrents, and he seems to indicate that your practical experience might be born out in some studies. Indeed, I hope that some day in the future, social scientists will conduct some serious research on criminal procedure, and actually care what practitioners have to say. Unfortunately, at the moment, this is lacking.

Steve, As I said “support” for the death penalty is a complex question. Many people “support” its use, but don’t support its application. As a practical matter I think that non-lawyers don’t really understand the procedures that lead up to the death penalty, and so their views are determined by how one phrases the question.

Do you really think that these questions, if asked to a lay audience, would yield constant answers?
Q1) Do you support the use of the death penalty?
Q2) Do you think that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th amendment to the US constitution?
Q3) Was Roper v. Simons wrongly decided?
Q4) Should AEDPA be amended to prohibit challenges to the constitutionality of any means of executing prisoners?
Q5) Should the death penalty be applied where there exists a small chance of an factually erroneous jury verdict?
Q6) Should the death penalty be applied where there exists a chance that a later Supreme Court will find that under similar circumstances a legal error was made in the trial?
Q7) Should condemned prisoners be allowed to argue that the imposition of the death penalty in their state is cruel and unusual?
Q8) Is it barbaric to execute retarded people?
Q9) Isn’t society at fault when a person is so far beyond redemption that a jury decides that he is better off dead?
Q10) Is the possibility of new, exonerating evidence, a reason to indefinitely postpone all death sentences?
And my personal favorite: Q11) "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?" (from http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2000/debates/history.story/1988.html )

Scalia’s view on the death penalty are strange. In Stanford v. Kentucky, he practically begged future courts to count the noses of states that did not impose it. He wrote, “All of our cases condemning a punishment under this mode of analysis also found that the objective indicators of state laws or jury determinations evidenced a societal consensus against that penalty.” He then proceeded to conclude that there was no such consensus at the time.

As to what constitutes a “majority” it is virtually impossible to know, since the constitution includes so many anti-democratic provisions in it (e.g. vetos, disproportionate representation in Congress, juries, trials, appeals, etc.) that we can only really take a guess what the people “want.”

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 31, 2006 9:55:18 PM

The condition (mentally ill or intoxicated by alcohol or drugs) of an offender when the the crime is committed an important factor in evaluating deterrence. If the offender is a returnee (two or more prior incarcerations) jail is an inconvenience not a deterrent. About 70% of those admitted to the Johnson County Jail (in Iowa) are charged with some type of alcohol enhanced public stupidity. A fairly high percentage of the first time offenders never return (which is a good thing). My views are that jail can be a deterrent under favorable circumstances for minor infractions and for serious offenses jail is not an important deterrent.

In Iowa probation is used extensively as an alternative to prison so the people admitted to prison on a first offense are charged with very serious crimes most of the rest are returnees or probation/parole violators (where whatever deterrence there was had worn off). If there prisons were not overcrowded probation would not be used as much and prison might become more of a deterrent (I do not expect to live long enough to see prisons with empty beds). My conclusion is that prison is not much of a deterrent under present circumstances.

Wisconsin does not have the death penalty but Jeffry Dahmer was murdered in prison by a lifer (no deterrence in that case). Similar murders have taken place in Iowa prisons which also does not have the death penalty.

In a nutshell deterrence is overrated.

I am a retired professor of astronomy at the University of Iowa and for the past seven years since I retired I have been doing research on the Criminal Justice/Injustice System. I write reports which I send to legislators and others who might have some influence on the system (water dripping on a stone approach to influencing public policy). I am a member of two advisory committees one for our sheriff and one for community based correction. For awhile I was on a committee that advised the County Board of Supervisors but that was unproductive and I gave that up. Looking back it appears that I may have actually done some good in a few instances.

Posted by: John Neff | Dec 31, 2006 11:05:02 PM

Forget watching on a video.

If you are unwilling to kill the animal that you eat, then you should examine your conscience.

If you support capital punishment and you can't pull the switch/trigger/lever/syringe yourself then you need to examine your beliefs.

If you ask another person to perform an act that you are unwilling to perform yourself, you are behaving dishonorably. Not wanting to see and participate in these acts that you believe are necessary means that you are a moral coward, unwilling to align your actions with your beliefs.

As for what my children should see, I would prefer to shield them from the sight of executions and war scenes, but even though I am opposed to both, they are part of reality that children must confront as well as the rest of us. I have no objection to them seeing sex, animal slaughter, amputation or dead bodies in general. Operations in particular are fascinating for children. I would draw the line at my children (or anyone else) observing my sexuality, but that has to do with my privacy, not the morality of act.

Posted by: Ray | Dec 31, 2006 11:50:41 PM

In the name of the "State”, a minimal of 16 individual can kill a person in cold blood. Luck of the draw. Killing in cold blood is wrong. What is the purpose of killing someone in cold blood. Pehaps to show that "the King can do no wrong.”

Posted by: seaton | Jan 1, 2007 1:01:43 AM

Anyone got any footage of Saddam feeding people into the wood chipper? That would be AWESOME. He's my hero, better than Apple Pie and Wal-Mart put TOGETHER.

Posted by: i_disagree | Jan 2, 2007 10:26:49 AM

If you have such footage, upload it to Google or Youtube. That way we could make a more informed decision. Unfortunately his trial seemed to relish the idea of presenting only summary proofs and using anonymous witnesses, so it is difficult to assess just how bad Saddam was. Indeed, I get the picture that Iraq, without or without Saddam is a very brutal place. Maybe his alleged brutality was within the norms of Iraqi society. Indeed, one would expect that three days after his execution, there would be no violence in Iraq. Instead, it seems that the Iraqis persist in such brutality and violence.

So, without further proofs it is hard to say whether he deserved that kind of hanging or not, and whether the US (both government actors, as well as the law professors that provided "advice" on the trial) should have participated in it.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 2, 2007 11:11:20 AM

Student

I feel that any execution should be taped as the option is there, times may come when reviewing the situation of public executions and the evidence will help decide this. Saddam had what was coming to him and how he could do some of those things he did is beyond me. use in schools is a good idea as it will help to teach the effects and outcomes of war and violence. As for the killing of animals, that is an option which is open to each individual. If people became vegetarans there would be no reason to kill cattle for food, and amputation of limbs is to help peoples health if this is what is needed.

Posted by: ??? | Jan 2, 2007 4:36:05 PM

The death penalty is barbaric, and so is waging a war on soil other than ones own. Whether over a remote control or otherwise its irrelevant. Pay for your gas $4+/galon, as that's the real price. Do not do harm elsewhere and there will be no terrorism in response. Learn how to prosecute your own for the war crimes, accept international courts for yourselves as well. Otherwise there will be no hope. Everything else is arrogant, incompetent and barbaric. Peace to all.

Posted by: Clone Cleve | Jan 2, 2007 8:42:52 PM

Clone Cleve, As someone who favors human rights, I think that you have a lot of interesting arguments, but some of them might be more convincing if they were further developed.

With the exception of civil wars, wars are, indeed, waged on someone foreign soil.

It is unclear what you mean by the “real price” of gasoline. There is no indication that gasoline is subsidized in the US. So, perhaps you might provide specifics. (It helps to provide citations.)

Further, the claim that there will be “no” terrorism is somewhat speculative, since there is no way to get binding assurances from terrorists that, upon the taking of a political decision in the US, they will never commit an act of terror.

I am interested to know whether you think that the denial of a jury trial in “international courts” comports with American constitutional values. Likewise, it is unclear what sources of law would create “war criminals” in the US. (If you refer to the Geneva Conventions, please provide the specific sections, which should be no problem for lawyers. Likewise, if you refer to them, you will need to explain how they relate to American law, and whether you propose to eliminate jury trials in the U.S. If you refer to the CAT, likewise, please explain what provisions you are talking about.)

Your references to “arrogant” and “incompetent” are too vague to have been made by a lawyer, so they are of little use on a law blog.

Thank you for your comments, and peace.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 2, 2007 8:56:46 PM

Came across this blog by accident while watching videos of the Saddam execution. My own opinion of the video is that as far as potentially gruesome execution videos and stills go (I have seen a few others) this one is actually pretty tame. I don't think letting kids view it would turn them or anyone else away from capital punishment. Many people believe that Saddam got what he deserved, and for many this video would just reinforce that belief. I personally believe that we could do without the death penalty in this modern day and age; it's sort of a holdover from our past that's unfortunately been carried over into the modern age. The worst sort of punishment for a person would actually be to send them away to a small prison cell with no outside contact whatsoever and let them rot and eventually die unlamented and in total obscurity.

Posted by: the Curmudgeon | Jan 3, 2007 12:30:30 AM

For me, I don't object nor accept the execution. But I have complete doubt in carrying out the execution in such a hurry. Here are my reasons,

1. Even though execution can be done anytime since Saddam totally and safely in the jail.
2. Another genocide trial for him is still pending and there can be a lot of truth and happenings uncovered if the trial continue with the presence of Saddam. Now people can hear the trial from only one side.
3. Or is there any chance that WDM and other lies about justifiable war from US President G.Bush be uncovered by letting Saddam stay alive for a year?
4. The video shows that there are a lot of racial, personal and religious conflict of interests in carrying out the execution (religious chanting upon execution, I hope those executioner would also have acted like Saddam if they were given the power), which in turn favour the fact that the trial had been carried out fairly?

I really doubt that the execution is fair even if the Saddam execution decision is fair.

Posted by: Klone TO | Jan 3, 2007 1:40:07 AM

I am a former attorney who watched the poor quality video and only wish I could have seen it better.

Although I don't think Ray made a particularly compelling argument ("If you support capital punishment and you can't pull the switch/trigger/lever/syringe yourself then you need to examine your beliefs."), I would have been glad to "flip the switch" on Saddam. I support the death penalty and wish we in America could get justice as quickly as Saddam did. I believe that long, drawn-out trials and the incredibly long appellate process hinder any possible deterrent effect on not only the death penalty, but ANY punishment.

But let's be clear - deterrence is not the reason we should have a death penalty. Every crime should have a just punishment, and death is the only just punishment for certain crimes (e.g., as my philosophy professor was wont to say, "for the killing of babies for pleasure"). So in the abstract, I believe that most humans would be in favor of a death penalty as a moral choice if it could be administered fairly and with a low probability for error. History has shown this belief to be true, even if it's only the human thirst for vengeance.

However, we do not live in the abstract. There are myriad "reasons" why the State should not administer death, and they have been clearly articulated above. (For example, "unequal treatment of defendants", "possible error", "excessively cruel punishment", "inept administration of death".) This is why I agree with those who want executions broadcast to the public. Let's take this argument out of the schools and into the streets. Let's speed up the administration of justice for heinous criminals and show the world how we deal with them. If viewing executions in HD changes minds one way or the other, so be it; but I'm guessing that those who favor the penalty will be enamored by the spectacle and those who favor abolishing the penalty will be horrified by the event.

Thanks for reading...

P.S. Please do not confuse the death penalty discussion with a discussion of whether or not I need to be able to "kill what I eat". NONE OF US, not even the purest Vegan, can control completely what goes into our mouths as food. In a post-agrarian society, we rely on others to do our "dirty work" in this and many areas. So take this discussion out of this forum!

Posted by: Brent G | Jan 3, 2007 6:12:47 PM

Brent, I understand that you are a former attorney, but I don’t think you understand the argument. Professor Berman is arguing that one need not witness a morally questionable aspect of society in order to make an informed judgment about it. This is quite a relevant argument to the Saddam – or any – execution.

Your argument that you “support” the death penalty is too vague to agree with or disagree with. All you say is that the death penalty is “just” and then you state that it should have a low error rate. (I think we should specify what this error rate should be. Maybe you should weigh in with the number of erroneously determined executions per hundred you find acceptable.)

I understand that you are not longer a lawyer, but perhaps you could state your arguments in more specific legal terms (since you declared that the purpose of the death penalty is neither specific nor general deterrence.)

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 3, 2007 9:17:36 PM

guud

Posted by: kuntal das | Jan 5, 2007 5:53:24 AM

There have been some reports of copycat deaths influenced by the media coverage. A 10-year-old boy in Webster, Texas, United States hanged himself to death in his bedroom. The mother stated that the boy had previously watched a news report about Saddam's execution and decided to hang himself as a form of experimentation. In Multan, Pakistan, a 9-year-old boy also died apparently copying the televised execution; his 10-year-old sister assisted with the hanging. A 15-year-old girl from Kolkata, India was reported to have hanged herself after becoming extremely depressed by watching the execution.[106] As of January 8, 2007 copycat hangings are blamed for the deaths of eight people worldwide.

this was taken from wikipedia. u decide whether its right for young children to be exposed to these kinds of graphic videos. sure there are movies games etc which 100x more violent but this is real. people should consider the effect they have on other as well. its just not right

(high school student)

Posted by: kp | Jan 20, 2007 2:50:49 AM

The death penalty for Saddam won't make Iraq a safer or saner place.

Posted by: Iraq's a Mess | Apr 12, 2008 8:55:29 PM

The death penalty for Saddam won't make Iraq a safer or saner place.

Posted by: Iraq's a Mess | Apr 12, 2008 8:57:35 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB