Latest News

Saddam's execution renews international debate on death penalty

BERLIN—Few tears were shed as news of the dawn execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein spread around the globe Saturday, but world leaders used the occasion to express concerns about the death penalty and about the general course of events in Iraq.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel indirectly criticized Saddam's execution.

"We respect the verdict but it is a known fact that the German government opposes the death penalty," she said. "I wish for the Iraqi people to proceed on its path in peace and without violence."

The press was unambiguous in its lack of sympathy for the man sentenced to death for ordering the murder of 148 his own citizens—and who might have been tried for the genocide of thousands more.

In Great Britain, The Sun tabloid noted, simply: "Iraqi butcher sent to Hell." In France, Le Figaro newspaper said the execution was, "A very strong message." In Germany, Die Welt observed, "Saddam Hussein died without a fight."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said there was "something quite heroic about a country that is going through the pain and the suffering that Iraq is going through, yet still extends due process to somebody who was a tyrant and brutal suppressor and murderer of his people. That is the mark of a country that is trying against fearful odds to embrace democracy."

Many other governments, however, expressed skepticism about the wisdom of executing Saddam.

"The execution of Saddam Hussein may lead to the further aggravation of the military-political atmosphere (in Iraq) and an increase in ethnic and religious tension," said Mikhail Kamynin, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Leaders in Brazil and India also worried that Saddam's hanging could worse violence in Iraq, not improve it.

But in many places around the world, reaction focused on use of the death penalty. Since his conviction, a number of European nations, the European Union, the Vatican and the United Nations have said execution is not appropriate response to crime.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Italy "is against the death penalty and so even in such a dramatic case as Saddam Hussein, we still think that the death penalty must not be put into action."

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that even when the executed "was guilty of grave crimes . . . capital punishment is always tragic news, a reason for sadness."

He went on to note the position of the Catholic Church: "The killing of the guilty party is not the way to reconstruct justice and reconcile society. On the contrary, there is a risk that it will feed a spirit of vendetta and sow new violence."

The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement noting opposition to the death penalty, but also urging Iraqis, after the execution, to look forward, toward reconciliation and national unity.

"Now more than ever, the objective should be a return to full sovereignty and stability in Iraq," the statement said.

Similarly, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said that that while her nation opposed the death penalty, it respects the decision of a sovereign nation dealing with "appalling crimes."

"He has now been held to account," she said.


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHICS (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): SADDAM HUSSEIN


Related stories from McClatchy DC