Demise of Tyrants
The death of former American President Gerald Ford and the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein are much in the news, so I have been in no hurry to mention them here, until a different angle came to mind.
Ford was a good man with whose politics I almost totally disagreed. The most apolitical move Ford made was to pardon Nixon for Watergate related offenses soon after Ford became President on the Nixon resignation. That extremely unpopular pardon prevented Ford from being elected President in 1976. I actually agreed with Ford on the pardon; we needed to put Watergate behind us and not allow Nixon more air time. Let him sulk away in disgrace to be virtually ignored the rest of his life. I think the real mistake Ford made was deciding to run for the Presidency in 1976. In spite of the pardon, people appreciated him serving as caretaker President, but his decision to seek election just did not feel right. A caretaker should not hold onto the keys too long, only until the successor is elected. Ford retiring to golf and highly paid speech making was unimpressive, though he probably did not have much to offer as an elder statesman anyway.
The hanging of Saddam was a most political move. The weak Shia dominated Iraqi government did it to curry favor with its base. American authorities wanted the execution to happen as another mythological milestone, but also to silence a man who could have testified to much American assistance and head turning when Kurdish genocide was taking place. Burying the historical American role in support of Saddam is as important to American authorities as burying Saddam himself. Never mind that the world and the Kurds in particular will never get a chance to address in court the atrocities of the tyrant against the Kurds. If retribution is a proper reason for punishment, the Kurds have been denied.
The hanging of Saddam also raises one of the more exotic arguments against capital punishment. His co-defendants in the upcoming trials involving the atrocities against the Kurds will now be denied the opportunity to use Saddam as a witness in their defense, for example to prove that their actions were forced by Saddam under threat of death. Executing a vital defense witness under such circumstances seems a denial of justice.
So here is a little different angle of connection on the Ford and Hussein deaths - different ways for tyrants to end their lives. Ford’s pardon of Nixon forced that tyrant to live out his life in shame, which was good for the people and appropriately bad for Nixon. But the execution of Hussein, with him resolutely holding the Koran and without ever having to answer for his atrocities against the Kurds, was disrespectful to a significant portion of the Iraqi population and may enable Saddam’s death to be raised to mythic proportions by some Islamic terrorists and political opportunists.