As part of a recent effort to repackage himself as a contrarian (perhaps in anticipation of 2 years of a Bush implosion), Christopher Hitchens uses his Slate column to argue against the death penalty for Saddam Hussein. While acknowledging that there are good arguments for execution even for those who generally oppose capital punishment, Hitch grounds his opposition in that of his heroes, the Kurds --
But the irony, if there is any, is actually the other way around. The elected president of Iraq, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, is opposed on principle to capital punishment .... he [deputy PM Barham Salih] told me that he hoped the new Iraq would abolish capital punishment "even when we capture Saddam Hussein." Like many leading Kurds, he had been influenced by discussions with Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of former French President François Mitterrand, who was a great friend of Kurdistan as well as a stern foe of capital punishment. The idea was that the new Iraq would begin life without the death penalty ... It is a shame that the Kurds were not part of the centerpiece of this trial, just as it is impressive that their leaders are the ones most in favor of magnanimity. And these, by the way, are the people that every liberal in the world is currently arguing that we should desert.
Regrettably for Hitch's romanticised view of the Kurds, it now turns out that the Saddam death warrant was in effect signed as part of the negotiations -- overseen by US Ambassador Zal Khalilzad -- that led to the formation of the unity (sic) government (sic) last Spring. The Associated Press has the details --
If the appeals court upholds the sentences, all three members of the Presidential Council — President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdul-Mahdi — must sign death warrants before executions can be carried out.
Talabani said Monday that although he opposes capital punishment, his signature is not needed to carry out Saddam's death sentence. Talabani, a Kurd, has permanently authorized Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, to sign on his behalf. Abdul-Mahdi has said he would sign Saddam's death warrant, meaning two of three signatures were assured.
Al-Hashimi, the other vice president and a Sunni, gave his word that he also would sign a Saddam death sentence as part of the deal under which he got the job April 22, according to witnesses at the meeting, which was attended by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
"We wanted a written promise before the first meeting of the new parliament. But later and during a meeting in the presence of American and British ambassadors and other politicians, the promise became oral in which he vowed not to oppose important rules and laws — especially those related to Saddam," Deputy Parliament Speaker Khaled al-Attiyah told the AP.
Thus the approval of the death penalties handed down Sunday for Saddam, his half brother Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, chief of the Revolutionary Court, had been part of the pact under which al-Hashimi got one of two vice presidential posts.
Thus the Kurdish opposition to the death penalty only extended to "ethical subsidiarity" as the Europeans say, and the Sunnis only got slots in the government on condition that they agreed to it in advance -- in a deal brokered by the US. And there's still that strange business about why the verdict was announced before it was actually ready (see also here). Hitch still chooses not to realise the degree to which he's sucked in; there are not going to many noble interpretations of Iraq available, despite his best efforts.
UPDATE: It's odd that Tony Blair sounded so peeved about being asked whether he supported the Saddam verdict at his monthly news conference today, since as the report above notes, the British ambassador to Iraq was at the meetings the death penalty agreement was reached. Similarly, does Margaret Beckett understand what her ambassador apparently already knew last April? [Finally, here's a fresh AP link that has the same content regarding the signatures as the now dead link above]