Better Off Dead

If Saddam had remained alive in jail, the chances of restoring calm in Iraq anytime soon would be zero. People would be afraid that sooner or later he would get out from behind those bars and return to power.

It is hard to comprehend how the execution of a cruel dictator, personally responsible for the murder of more than one million Iraqis, Iranians, Kurds and Shi'ites during his 24 years in power, came as such a shock to the high-minded souls of the world, especially those in the European Union who called the hanging of Saddam Hussein a "barbaric act."

It was enough to give a person apoplexy to listen to the radio debate on Sunday between those bleeding hearts who denounced the execution of one of the greatest mass murderers since World War II on the grounds of their fundamental opposition to the death penalty, and those who felt it was justified. How could anyone listen to the astounding response of one of these "men of principle" to the question of whether he would have spared Hitler, and keep quiet?

In Israel, as in many countries around the world, there is no death penalty. Not only was Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir, not sent to the gallows, but he tied the knot recently and will soon become a father. On the other hand, Israel did not hesitate to hang Adolf Eichmann.

What does that say? That we have double standards? Not exactly. It says that we draw a line between criminal murder and genocide. A leader who doesn't blink an eyelid at employing chemical warfare to murder thousands of Kurds and an equal number of Shi'ites, and then buries dozens, if not hundreds, of them in mass graves, who is capable of launching an eight-year war against Iran that ends up killing a million people, is not an ordinary murderer. He is a war criminal who deserves to be put to death.

We are talking about a tyrant who controlled his people by sowing fear and acting like a barbarian. Iraq's numerous prisons, including the one where Saddam was executed, were full of people who were brutally tortured and killed solely because they said something they shouldn't have, or were turned in by informers.

I was surprised to read Nahum Barnea's column in Yedioth Ahronoth praising Saddam's courage. "He went to his death honorably, without asking for pity, without clasping the feet of his executioners. He did not give his enemies that last bit of satisfaction." For starters, the world only saw what the person who stage-directed the execution wanted us to see. During the trial he wasn't such a hero. With the Koran in his hand, he tried to save his skin with all kinds of excuses, the most pathetic of them being that he was still the president of Iraq.

Ruthless dictators of Saddam's ilk are not afraid of death. The heads of the Nazi party - Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and Goering - committed suicide. Other Nazi leaders, sentenced to death in the Nuremburg trials, went to the gallows with heads held high, without begging for mercy. Alfred Rosenberg, the ideologue of the Nazi race theory, shouted "Death to the Jews" before he died. Saddam, according to Al Jazeera, said "Long live Iraq" and "Long live Palestine."

The common denominator between the Nazi murderers and Saddam was an obsessive desire to wipe out the Jews. Saddam was a megalomaniac who pledged to burn Israel to a crisp. He began to build the first nuclear reactor in the Arab world with the express purpose of putting an end to Israel. He encouraged and financed suicide bombings and terror against Israel's civilian population, and fired 40 Scud missiles at us to show the Palestinian terror organizations and Hezbollah that the home front was Israel's Achilles' heel.

What is hard to understand is how a vicious tyrant who dunked his opponents in acid or cut off their arms and legs could remain in power for a whole generation without being challenged. In the end, he had more arrogance than brains. He didn't prepare an escape route for himself, and was mistaken twice in not believing that America would use force against him.

He invaded Kuwait without any justification, prompting an international coalition to attack him. He invaded Iran without any justification and pulled out eight years later without achieving anything, leaving half a million Iranians dead. He knew he had no nuclear or biological weapons, but he arrogantly chased the UN inspectors out of Iraq. His people suffered hunger and want in the wake of UN-imposed sanctions - until the occupation came and brought him down.

Stability in Iraq is still a long way off. But if Saddam had remained alive in jail, the chances of restoring calm anytime soon would be zero. People would be afraid that sooner or later he would get out from behind those bars and return to power. Hence his execution was not a punishment. It was the end of an era. Saddam Hussein is better off dead.