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Hang em' High

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by Ed Naha

If the execution of Saddam Hussein has proven anything, it’s that the new, democratically elected Iraqi government has learned a lot of valuable lessons from the Bush administration. One lesson: when caught in a Big Lie, Lie BIGGER.

Witness the evolving (or devolving) narrative regarding the hanging. Shortly after Saddam’s death and the official “silent” video of Hussein on the gallows was released, news outlets like CNN and the BBC were regaled by eye-witnesses who described Saddam’s last moments as a combination of vintage Jimmy Cagney or Al Pacino in “Scarface.”

Judge Munir Haddad described Saddam’s demise thusly: "He was reciting, as it was his custom, 'God is Great!' and also some political slogans like: 'Down with the Americans!' and 'Down with the Invaders!'"

Haddad went on: "One of the guards present asked Saddam Hussein whether he was afraid of dying.

“Saddam's reply was that 'I spent my whole life fighting the infidels and the intruders', and another guard asked him: 'Why did you destroy Iraq and destroy us? You starved us and you allowed the Americans to occupy us.'


“His reply was, 'I destroyed the invaders and the Persians and I destroyed the enemies of Iraq... and I turned Iraq from poverty into wealth.'

He said: 'This is my end... this is the end of my life. But I started my life as a fighter and as a political militant - so death does not frighten me.'"

Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie said of Saddam:

“He was a broken man. He was afraid. You could see fear in his face.”

Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament, recalled Hussein shouting: “Long live the nation! Long live the people! Long live the Palestinians.”

The witnesses stopped short of having Saddam yell: “Top of the world, ma!” and “You’ll never take me alive, coppers.”

A hiccup occurred when CNN reached an unnamed government employee via cell phone who said, “Saddam’s body is in front of me. It’s over.”

When asked about chanting heard in the background, the official said: “These are employees of the Prime Minister’s office and government, chanting in celebration.”

He later mentioned that they were dancing around the body.

Undaunted, al-Rubaie went out of his way to portray the hanging as dignified, telling CNN: “The whole process from A to Z has been videoed, and it's kept in a safe place, and there was absolutely no humiliation to Saddam Hussein when he was alive, and after he was executed. So there was no -- there was all respect to him, when he was alive, and after the execution when he was like a body, if you like ... I'm honestly proud of the way it was executed. It was done in a proper way, in all the international standards and the Islamic standards, and Iraqi standards. I'm really proud of the way it went on.”

Within eighteen hours, the scenario described above would prove to be, using sophisticated legal terminology, horseshit. A cell phone tape of the execution would surface both on Arab TV and the internet revealing the event to be something as dignified as a frat blow-out and possessing all the judicial gravitas of a public lynching.

Off-screen, attendees taunted and mocked Saddam. Munkith al-Faroun, one of the prosecution team can be heard yelling: “Please, I am begging you not to. The man is being executed!”

“Go to hell!” yells one attendee.

“Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada,” chants another, mocking Sunni Saddam with the name of Moqtada Sadr, the Shiite cleric who runs one of Iraq’s biggest militias.

“Is this what you call manhood?” Saddam says, sternly.

He’s hanged, mid-prayer and the taunts continue.

So, within a few moments, one of the world’s most reviled despots became a martyr, showing more dignity than any “official” in the room.

Bush, who slept through the execution (Surprise!) but later issued a statement praising the Iraqi government reacted to the new “Ox-Bow Incident” taint by doing what he does best. Pulling a Sergeant Shultz, he essentially proffered an “I know nussink” response.

Nouri al-Maliki’s government began to tap dance so feverishly, it resembled Gregory Hines on speed.

Prosecutor al-Faroun told “The New York Times” that he recognized one of the cell-phone videographers. It was Security Advisor al-Rubaie. Within twenty-four hours, he recanted and the al-Maliki government said that it was a guard who broadcasted the event.

Al-Faroun disagreed. “Two officials were holding mobile phone cameras," said al-Faroun.

"One of them I know. He's a high-ranking government official," al-Faroun continued, declining to name the man. "The other I also know by sight, though not his name. He is also senior.”

The government launched an investigation. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Depending on which wire-service report you read and when, this became a detective novel as penned by Ken Kesey.

First, a single guard was arrested.

Then, he wasn’t arrested.

Then, according to Reuters: "Two Justice Ministry guards have been arrested. Other guards have identified them as having filmed the hanging," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's aide Sami al-Askari told Reuters.

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told a news conference: "The investigation is ongoing and we have identified those who flouted the rules ... Even for a dictator like Saddam, the law must be obeyed."

Well, maybe it wasn’t the Justice Ministry guards, after all. Al-Rubaie blamed the video on people trying to destroy Iraq. “Whoever leaked this video meant to harm national reconciliation and drive a wedge between Shiites and Sunnis.”

Okay. Now we have mysterious strangers. But, wait! There’s more.

Via A.P.: "In the past few hours, the government has arrested the person who videotaped Saddam's execution. He was an official who supervised the execution and now he is under investigation," said a key al-Maliki adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Oy! About those leaks!

Between arrests, the al-Maliki government tried a “Hail Mary” pass. It missed.

"The execution operation has been mischaracterized for political purposes," said Maliki adviser, Sadiq al-Rikabi.

Mr. Rikabi, who was present at the execution, said the sentence had been carried out properly. "What has happened is not an insult or degradation," he said.

Visuals? Meet verbiage.

Thud.

Al-Rubaie then took a page from the Republican playbook and blamed the media! On CNN, he declared: "I believe there was an infiltration to the crowd inside the chamber. These people have done a lot of harm, and I honestly believe that this may well have been planned by one of these Arab television channels infiltrating, and probably this video has been sold to this Arab television station."

Thud.

Twenty-four hours later, there were new and improved infiltrators. Said al-Rubaie “There was an infiltration at the execution chamber.” Who this time?

A senior Interior Ministry official said the hanging was supposed to be carried out by hangmen employed by the Interior Ministry but that "militias" had managed to infiltrate the executioners' team.

"The execution was carried out by militias and outsiders. They put aside the team from the Interior Ministry that was supposed to carry it out," the official said.

And, of course, nobody saw it. Nobody knew about it. Although the executioners put on their festive snuff film ski masks in front of all the attendees, nobody even mustered a “Hey! That’s not Biff!”

So far, the Iraqis have pinned the blame for this travesty of justice on everyone but the Keebler elves. They do, however, have their suspicions regarding “The Lucky Charms’” Leprechaun.

Bush, still in his bubble, floated a couple of public relations trial balloons that soared like Acme anvils.

Tony Snow couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about, saying: “It's interesting because there seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein's life and less about the first 69 in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people. That's why he was executed…”

No, Tony. He was executed for killing 148 people in 1982, about the time he became our ally. The bigger trial, the one that would have highlighted all those pesky Iraq-American connections, never did get to proceed on account of the hanging!

The White House continued to back-pedal. “The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad,” deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said. “Prime Minister Maliki's staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we'll leave it at that.”

BushCo. then threw a uniform in front of the cameras. It backfired.

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the U.S. military spokesman, said the execution of Saddam Hussein would have gone differently if U.S. officials - not Iraqis - had orchestrated it.

“Would we have done things differently? Yes we would have. But that's not our decision. That's the government of Iraq's decision,'' Caldwell said.

Ouch! Gets worse.

As he faced his own death on the gallows, Caldwell said, Saddam "was courteous, as he always had been, to his U.S. military police guards.

"He spoke very well to our military police, as he always had. And when getting off there at the prison site, he said farewell to his interpreter.

"He thanked the military police squad, the lieutenant, the squad leader, the medical doctor we had present, and the colonel that was on site."

So much for swagger, eh?

Adding to the hilarity, Master Sgt. Robert Ellis, a military nurse who cared for Saddam for nearly a year and a half, publically remembered him kindly.

"He basically talked about his wife, and his children," Ellis told CNN.

"He was an avid reader. Loved to read and write. He had a lot of stories that he had written. He had a pamphlet that he wrote in every day and then when time came to visit him he'd read things to me," the army reservist said.

Saddam also saved his bread crusts to feed birds and watered a patch of weeds outside his cell, recalling his days as a farmer.

Ah, Saddam, we hardly knew ye.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the tap-dancing continued. Prosecutor al-Faroun declared that nobody in attendance actually mocked Saddam.

"These shouts were spontaneous. The guards who called out were outside the chamber," he told Al Jazeera.

In the video, however, Saddam is seen reacting to people standing below him.

Okay, so Saddam’s execution didn’t exactly unite Iraqis. So, whom did it bring together? Everyone from Charles Krauthammer to one of Saddam’s judges.

Jim Hoagland of “The Washington Post” wrote: "The mishandled execution carries a larger message that President Bush must absorb for the decisive address he plans to give on Iraq as early as next week: If Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his aides cannot control a gallows chamber containing 20 people, how can they hope to manage a country that is disintegrating under the weight of religious and ethnic hatreds?"

Columnist Robert Scheer stated: "It is a very frightening precedent that the United States can invade a country on false pretences, depose its leader and summarily execute him without an international trial or appeals process. This is about vengeance, not justice, for if it were the latter the existing international norms would have been observed.”

Iraq’s main Sunni clerics’ group blamed America for the execution via an internet post.

"The execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the manner it took place was carried out at the behest of the occupier and some of its allies in and outside Iraq”, wrote the Muslim Scholars' Association.

Saddam's hanging was "a purely political act," and the fact that it happened while Iraq's Sunnis were marking the first day of Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice, shows "the grudges (they harbor) and their quest to provoke" the Sunnis, the association said.

Saddam’s first judge, Rizkar Mohammed Amin, said the execution was illegal, stating Iraqi law banned executions during the Eid al-Adha festival period that marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The four-day Feast of the Sacrifice began for Iraqi Sunnis on Saturday -- the day Saddam was hanged in Baghdad -- and on Sunday for Shiites.

Iraq's National Security Adviser al-Rubaie denied that Saddam was executed on Eid al-Adha, in an interview with CNN just hours after the hanging.

"Eid starts from daylight -- we had managed to execute him well before the sunrise," Rubaie said, calling Tony Snow on speed-dial.

Charles Krauthammer, big-shouldered conservative columnist, was also not amused by the lynching. In an essay entitled “The Hanging: Beyond Travesty,” he wrote: “For the Iraqi government to have botched both his trial and execution, therefore, and turned monster into victim, is not just a tragedy but a crime -- against the new Iraq that Americans are dying for and against justice itself…

“Consider the timing. It was carried out on a religious holiday. We would not ordinarily care about this, except for the fact that it was in contravention of Iraqi law. It was done on the first day of Eid al-Adha as celebrated by Sunnis. The Shiite Eid began the next day, which tells you in whose name the execution was performed…

“The whole sorry affair illustrates not just incompetence but also the ingrained intolerance and sectarianism of the Maliki government. It stands for Shiite unity and Shiite dominance above all else.

“We should not be surging American troops in defense of such a government. This governing coalition -- Maliki's Dawa, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Sadr's Mahdi Army -- seems intent on crushing the Sunnis at all costs. Maliki should be made to know that if he insists on having this sectarian war, he can well have it without us.”

Siding with Krauthammer is, of all people, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“People are executed all over the world, but what happened in Baghdad on the first day of Eid al-Adha was unthinkable. I didn't believe it was happening," he said.

"Why did they have to hurry? Why hang him when people are reciting their holiday prayers? Then the pictures of the execution were revolting and barbaric.”

That’s quite an eclectic group Saddam’s death has brought together.

So, as Bush shuffles his cabinet, tossing out members with the spine to stand up against his Iraqi surge, as tensions build in the Middle East and Iraq continues to crumble, let’s consider the words of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who, in an interview with “The Wall Street Journal,” reflected on his gig.

“I didn’t want to take this position. I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again.”

Al-Maliki, who started a four-year stint as Prime Minister in May of last year, went on: “I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term.”

Nouri? Could you puleeze get Dubya on the line and try to get him to think likewise?

And, both of you, don’t let the law hit you on the way out.

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