As it becomes increasingly likely that the execution of Saddam was a blunder, the story in Monday's New York Times detailing the bureaucratic process behind it might perhaps be read as the product of White House efforts to distance themselves from it. There is one particular inconsistency between this story and previous accounts of the death penalty process, concerning who signs the death warrant. The New York Times story says --
The Maliki [PM] government spent much of Friday working on legal mechanisms to meet the American demands. From Mr. Talabani [President], they obtained a letter saying that while he would not sign a decree approving the hanging, he had no objections. The Iraqi official said Mr. Talabani first asked the tribunal’s judges for an opinion on whether the constitutional requirement for presidential approval applied to a death sentence handed down by the tribunal, a special court operating outside Iraq’s main judicial system. The judges said the requirement was void.
But we had previously noted an Associated Press story, whose essential content is reiterated here, that the deal to hang Saddam was part of the government formation negotiations last Spring, in which Talabani gave the Shiite Vice President his proxy for the warrant, and the Sunni VP also agreed to sign it in exchange for seats in the Cabinet. One possibility is of course confusion, as the procedures are all new. Another is that it's evidence of people running away from their original decisions having seen how the outcome is playing around the world.
UPDATE: As in our initial post, Christopher Hitchens again wants to see the Kurds extricated from the decision to execute Saddam --
I couldn't help but notice that President Talabani was unwilling to be drawn on the subject of the death penalty, to which he is opposed. He might have been forgiven a bit of gloating after all that his people had endured, but he denied himself the pleasure. I also couldn't help noticing that when the Iraqi "appeals court" confirmed the death sentence (after a period of time so short that it would be insulting to describe it as a judicial review), it stipulated that not even the president could commute the sentence.
Hitch doesn't reconcile this with the evidence that Talabani had already agreed to the death penalty last year. And since the special court to try Saddam was set up by the US outside the normal Iraqi judicial system, Hitch's final complaint can only be with one person: George W. Bush.