2006, like other years, was a year of revenge killings. Iraq is the poster child for the cycle of violence and counter-violence that seems to have no end but exhaustion of the combatants. But it isn’t the only one. The death sentences in the notorious case of the Tripoli 6 and the execution of Saddam Hussein are two more.
We have dealt here depressingly often with the Tripoli 6 case, the health workers from Bulgaria and Palestine convicted in a Libyan court of intentionally infecting over 400 children with HIV. The exclusion of vital scientific evidence that the virus was almost certainly a result of poor hospital hygiene, present there before the foreign workers arrived, led to worldwide condemnation of the Libyan judicial system, a condemnation which has been met with defiance by Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi:
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on Friday defended a court’s decision to sentence five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death for infecting more than 400 children with HIV, but said mystery surrounded the case.
“It is unimportant that the medics are sentenced to death or not — if they committed a crime and are sentenced to death, that is the court’s decision,” Gaddafi told a gathering of officials, religious leaders and reporters in Tripoli.
“The important thing is why the medical team injected the children with AIDS. Who ordered you — was it Libyan intelligence, American intelligence, Israeli intelligence or Bulgarian intelligence? This is what we have to find out.” (The Scotsman)
The politics of the Libyan case are complicated, but an important element is the rage of the parents, who want to see someone punished for the tragedy that has overcome their children. The fairness of the Libyan trial is highly questionable, but the death sentence is also important to note. If the sentences are carried out, these will be revenge killings, pure and simple.
Which brings us to the execution of Saddam Hussein. Hussein himself had no compunction about ordering the summary execution of political rivals and others. This penchant was well known. It never prevented the US and many European countries from having cordial relations with him, that is, until he committed the cardinal sin of invading oil-rich Kuwait in 1990. It is also undeniable that his hanging was a revenge killing by Iraqi Shiia. Many might see it as justified, but of course revenge killings are always justified — by the motive of revenge. There can be no justification on other grounds. It will not deter other despots from bloodthirsty acts. Indeed it is likely to make them even more willing to kill rivals they see as threats so they don’t meet the same fate as Hussein. It will bring no “closure,” as the continued cycle of violence in Iraq shows. It will likely lead to more revenge killings, these to avenge Hussein’s death. It brought honor to no party, certainly not the US, who aided and abetted a “show trial” and handed the prisoner over to those they knew would kill him speedily.
Saddam Hussein was a psychopath who needed to be walled off from the world. But executing him was an act of judicial murder with the prospect of more violence and in any event no potential to promote peace. Saddam was almost as certainly guilty as the Tripoli 6 are innocent. In one respect, however, they are in the same category, along with the 100 or so Iraqis killed daily in that cursed country.
They bear the evil marks of murder for the sake of revenge.