Thursday, November 09, 2006

We're all trying to change your head

Mao, Andy Warhol 1972

The Mao isn't really related, other than the fact that all political power (not just Saddam's) comes from the barrel of a gun, but I figured what the hell. This blog needs a little color.

Anyway, G3:

More to the point, you claim: “Execution is an exercise of absolute state authority, in a way that taxes or gun control simply aren't.” That doesn’t quite satisfy, does it? To use your own language, taxes and execution “are different in degree, not in kind.”

I'm not sure what to make of that; perhaps we need to start from first principles.

Death is absolute.

Do we agree on that?

Because if we do, then any difference in degree is a difference in kind.

But if you base your political reasoning on the assumption that death isn't absolute, or if you think that death and parking tickets are in some meaningful way comparable, then I'm not sure there's anything we can talk about here.

You fault my choice of dictionary, and point out the OED. Well, the OED definition is ass-backwards and formalistic. Under their definition, and your use of it, Iran isn't a totalitarian state. More than one political party? Get out of jail free.

The definition I used focuses on the behavior of the state and the authority it exerts over its subjects, which is a more productive way of classifying governments.

You ask if imprisonment is a fair, proportional punishment. What are you going to do, kill him a hundred thousand times over the course of the next 24 years? No punishment can be fair or proportional to crimes so severe. I didn't go in to a litany of his crimes, or a rhetorical condemnation, because it's not relevant. For the record, then: Saddam is bad. So was Mao, who I've thrown in for no good reason; so were Hitler and Stalin, who you used in preposterous non sequiturs. It's obscene to require everyone to prove their Saddam-hating bona fides every time he's mentioned; it's false piety to imply that only those who hold your position -- any position -- respect human life.

As far as ignoring your argument, I'm not sure what you mean, because I'm not sure if there's an argument in there. The closest I can come to drawing a thesis from your first reply's various rhetorical points is that, while Americans like due process, it's a preference that can be put on hold like Christianity when the crimes are severe enough.

That may not be what you mean, but it's my best guess.

Needless to say, if that's what you argue, I don't agree; due process, or for that matter Christianity, are to be tested in extremis, not there abandoned. If we don't live by our principles, they aren't really our principles. They are a sham.

G3 and DDN both accuse me of requiring something like "100% justice" or a "100% perfect trial." If you think I'm splitting hairs here, and that we're talking about the difference between 99% and 100% justice; I'll only point out that 4 participants in the trial have been killed for their roles; that several judges have resigned out of fear or political pressure; that the law establishing the court does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but only "to the satisfaction of the court"; and that since the CPA order that established the Tribunal required it to comply with international standards, any of the items I've listed is sufficient to place the Tribunal in violation not only of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , but of its own establishing law.

The tribunal, the trial, and the verdict were as poorly done as every other bit of the Iraq war and occupation. The inadequacies of the Tribunal leave open the possibilty of charges of a show trial; the sentence of death alienates the international community and our allies in europe.

You wouldn't think it would be possible to screw up convicting Saddam Hussein, but that's what we've done.

By the way; keep the insults coming; it's actually pretty amusing. I may even change my blogger handle to "cheeky jihadi."


Dr. Duke Nukem said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr. Duke Nukem said...

First of all, stop using the OED and Webster for a political science term. There's more to the definition that what the dictionary can cobble together. Looking to Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the figures who really expanded the meaning of the term "totalitarianism", totalitarianism is more than the extent of authority exerted. It also tends to require a single party, a dictator, and the enforcement of that authority by brutal physical force and terror. Arguably, that working definition of "totalitarianism" is still tailored to fit the Soviet paradigm, and there's legitimate reason to challenge your labeling. As Freedom House notes, Iran was on the way towards becoming more open and democratic before the downturn that has continued since the 2000 parliamentary elections. You should be careful when assuming that Iran is a totalitarian state.

On a side note, you need to be careful when mixing principles and morals into a discussion of politics and national security. From your selected quotation from Mao, it's obvious that you're skeptical of the motives behind any government authority, particularly those that involve death, and that's fine. But the absoluteness of death is irrelevant to this discussion. It isn't the nature of Death itself that agitates the international and Arab communities, but the legitimacy of the court's decision. That legitmacy has nothing to do with the moral or ethical consequence of death. As a seperate argument, or a personal reason for disputing the verdict, though, it's fine.

Second, where the hell are you going with the "death is absolute" thing? Now, if you're citing the permanence of death and immorality of killing as one of your reasons for objecting to Saddam's death sentence, fine. But make that clear. Boldfaced lettering and italicized font do not compensate for lack of connected reasoning.

Third, you're missing an important fact in summarizing the key issues with the trial. For one, the Iraqis were given the option of trying Saddam in the international human rights court - both Iraqis and the CPA refused. The trial of Saddam was designed to sentence him to death, and it was expected to alienate European allies. To a certain extent, it is a show trial. The outcome of the Nuremberg trials was also largely a given from the outset, but they served a vital role in the reconstruction of European - and particularly German - society in the aftermath of WWII. It is essential to view Saddam's trial in a similiar light. The outrage and offense to European allies were the expected costs; we will not know until long after Iraq's troubled days are over whether those costs - among the many bloody others - were worth the prize.

Could the trial have been run better, sure. So could the war. So could WWII and the 2006 World Cup. But of all those things, the trial of Saddam Hussein, in a country occupied by U.S. troops by a jury of Iraqi citizens desperate for justice and revenge, was hardly something unlikely of being "screwed up". That's like saying you didn't think it possible someone to burn themselves by an open flame. If you want to talk about flying in the face of probability, consider that Saddam wasn't gunned down like Mussolini or Ceausescu.

Anonymous said...

Although you and I seem to be in complete agreement, we have to be able to use common definitions in order to conduct debate. Without them, we are little better than stoned teenagers in a Burger King at 2am arguing about who the hottest girl in World History class is.

McClintic Sphere said...

Okay, before I go through points 1, 2, and 3, there's apparently something that needs to be cleared up. The titles of these posts have been based on the Beatles' song "Revolution." The song is about having a skeptical relationship with radicals. One of its lyrics talks about pictures of Chairman Mao. That's why there's a picture of Chairman Mao. The quote was a tongue-in-cheek relation back to G3's observation about Saddam's rise to power, and a relation back to the song. It was not a personal endorsement.

And there are two separate issues: the show trial, which angers arabs, and the death penalty, which angers Europe etc. This is vastly oversimplified, so don't come screaming "gotcha!" if you find an arab who opposes the death penalty, or the Times of London opposing the show trial. They're separate faults; but the US has shown in Iraq considerable prowess at multiplying its mistakes.

In answer to your numbered points:

First; if you, G3, the OED and Zbig want to define "totalitarianism" to mean "The Soviet Union," then I give up and say instead:
A state which executes people necessarily subscribes to the same core belief about the relationship between state and individual as do totalitarian regimes: both make the life of the individual subject to the will of the state.
There. That's as succinct as I can be about it. I'm not going to go into why I think this is a bad idea, I'll just say that it's called the Enlightenment.

On the subject of Iran: again, it's not the Soviet Union, so Zbig says... not totalitarian. (sorry, a bit of sarcasm there). But the fact that you debate the merits pretty much makes my point, which is that the OED definition's single-minded fixation on multiple political parties doesn't really provide the answer. If we can have an informed debate about whether Iran, even with multiple parties, is totalitarian, then that definition doesn't work. I'm aware of the history, and the rightward swing over the last several years; I think that some of the restrictions on the elections -- like the approval or rejection of candidates -- push things back toward something like totalitarianism. Ten years ago, I was a lot more hopeful.

Second: I'm making a big deal about death being absolute because I'm drawing a distinction between states with absolute authority over individuals, and states which recognize limits to the state's power over individuals. The power of life and death is absolute power; the state can have no greater power over an individual. That's why I draw a distinction there.

I'm well aware that the entire thing was designed to result in a death sentence and make Joe Six-Pack (and his Iraqi counterpart) happy. If you want to talk about the role of the trial in reconstructing Iraq, it was botched on those grounds as well.

The crime for which he was convicted was a the massacre of 148 Shiia; it would have been smarter for the death sentence not to have a sectarian element -- Saddam killed lots of his countrymen; surely it must be possible to convict him of killing both Shiia and Sunni, arabs and kurds.

As far as the argument that any trial held under those circumstances would be poorly done, we chose the circumstances -- including keeping it in Iraq -- with indifference to the results of those decisions. I'm not amazed that flames burn, or that a trial set up as this one wasn't particularly good. I'm outraged that we set it up as we did.

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