1. Steve S says

    Regardless of the crimes he oversaw and the killings he ordered, the public display of a man hanging from a noose as he struggles against air hunger, the panic of breathlessness, and the slow choking of his existence is barbaric.

    Just a technical matter: It is my understanding that this is not what happens in a hanging. The noose, properly created, does not strangle. Rather, it breaks the neck. If you create it improperly, it either strangles, or severs the head. Of course, I’m not an expert, I could be wrong.

  2. Mentat says

    From the perspective of the warmongers, he’s just one more insignificant casualty in the glorious “liberation” of Iraqi citizens. Er, the ones who survived, anyway.

    I can’t muster much sympathy for Hussein, but I agree that his execution is not going to have a civilizing influence anywhere.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Steve –

    The key variable seems to be how long the hangee drops: a short rope practically guarantees some air dancing & pants filling, and a long one (starting from a high place) usually produces a quick snap.

    It all depends on what effect the director chooses for the scene. The specific choreography was worked out centuries ago.

  4. Satan luvvs Repugs says

    Well, I have to say that before 9/11, before the “War on Terror”, before the invasion of Iraq, the insurgency and Abu Ghraib, I was philosophically opposed to the death penalty.

    But George W. Bush changed my mind about that. There are some whose crimes are so heinous that they should be tried, convicted, and then executed in the most grisly fashion imaginable. Thanks for opening my eyes, Mr. Bush.

    Now, back to Saddam. Does anyone else detect a hint of “let’s kill him before he can say too much?”. It would be awfully convenient to perminently silence such a powerful source of embarassing revelations.

  5. says

    If you create it improperly, it either strangles, or severs the head.

    Not just “improperly”–here in Washington state, Mitchell Rupe, a death-row inmate, successfully argued before a federal judge in 1994 that, since he weighed over 400 pounds, he was too obese to hang because of the risk of decapitation, even under “normal” circumstances, and that that would therefore amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

  6. says

    Am I reading Dr Charles completely wrong? It seems to me that the objection is to the method, as being simply rather icky, rather than to the sentence itself.

    Steve S, you’re correct. If the hanging is done properly it’s not really strangling as we understand it at all, although it might meet some technical definition of asphyxiation if you look at the chemicals in the bloodstream. A competent hangman (and they will get a competent one, of that you may be sure) takes the weight into account and measures carefully, otherwise they do dangle unhappily for quite a long time or, if the drop is too long, their heads pop right off.

  7. Russell says

    Perhaps I’m a bit barbaric, but I don’t mind at all the notion that tyrants who commit heinous acts need to worry about the possibility of facing the noose. The US hung some of those who were convicted at Nuremburg. While there are some things the US did the last century that I wish it had not, that would come pretty low on my list.

  8. says

    Of all the casualties of this ongoing tragedy, this is one that I won’t lose any sleep over.

    Now as to the US officials and even presidents who coddled this monster for years right up until a couple months before his invasion of Kuwait…

  9. bmurray says

    I think the time to complain was way back when it was obvious his trial was a farce. This has never been about our (supposed) ethical standards — not sure why the climax should be expected to be held to higher ones than the invasion, capture, or trial.

  10. Coragyps says

    Well, most of the pro-lifers seem to be happy enough with the verdict.

    Is something wrong with that sentence?

  11. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Saddam needed to be neutralised as a political force. The question is if a death sentence is the best method. It will probably lead to some violence, and it seems Saddam himself hopes to become a martyr for the Sunni.

    I don’t like countries to impose on other countries unnecessarily, but the occupier should take the power to forbid death sentences. Unfortunately it is unlikely US will ever do so.

    It is also unfortunate that Saddam wasn’t tried by the International Criminal Court, as I believe his crime could have merited. (Though perhaps there was specific reasons to abstain, I can’t remember.) Again, it was unlikely US would let that happen.

    It would be interesting to have a discussion about if the US refusal to support this much needed ICC system is because of fear of others having any narrowly defined and seldom used powers, a misdirected need to be totally independent at all costs, a mistrust about strictly defined and agreed upon procedures, or simply a wish to remain with the powers to always be able to behave like the baddest bully in the school yard if necessary? Or is it something else entirely?

  12. says

    The death penalty is wrong. Period. It is only acceptable if you want to lower yourself to the level of those you want to execute. Everybody, and I mean everybody, in favor of the death penalty should be called up (like jury duty) to carry out the execution at some point in their life.

  13. Don Price says

    I love the fact that Hussein was portrayed by the Americans as veritable freakin’ Santa Claus during the Reagan years while they watched with glee as the Iraqis and Iranians slaughtered each other by the 100,000s. He was the benevolent good guy until he became inconvenient. His human rights abuses never bothered the American Government in the least until he had outlived his usefulness and then they suddenly became something to use against him to get him out of the picture. Human rights never had anything to do with it: it’s all about politics, plain and simple. Same with Noriega… Pinochet… Suharto… Marcos… The list goes on.

  14. says

    So, Acteon, you’re in favor of increasing the number of executions to match the number of people in favor of the death penalty?

  15. says

    Actually that won’t be required. The increase in executions that is. Although I admit it is an interesting proposal…

    In fact if the option of life in jail without the chance of parole is offered there is already a majority of Americans in favor of dropping the death penalty. Countries that get rid of the death penalty are highly unlikely to re-introduce it.

    You idea would also run into problems when you execute everybody and in the end you have two people left. They’ll have to pick straws I suppose….

  16. Brian X says

    While I’m not entirely opposed to the death penalty, I do think we’d probably be better off without it than with it and would not have an objection to its abolition.

    That said, yeah, hanging? It’s not like any country in the Middle East is short of bullets. Just kneel him down on a good-sized tarp — a .22 round to the back of the head ought to be enough. Maximum damage (from the light bullet ricocheting inside the skull), minimum mess (small entry wound, probably a small exit wound). Seems humane to me.

    That or a (boosted) taser blast directly to the brain stem.

  17. bmurray says

    Just kneel him down on a good-sized tarp — a .22 round to the back of the head ought to be enough.

    Took three to kill my dog. Killing is always ugly, brutal, messy business. Those that want it done almost always prefer not to be there so that they can pretend it’s something else.

  18. JYB says

    Well..personally I’m opposed to the death penalty too. More for due process reasons than moral reasons. That being said I think my main problem here is it thrusts Hussein back into the spotlight. I would like him to rot in jail and let everyone slowly forget about him.

  19. Brian X says


    Well, I’m a white boy from the suburbs… the vast majority of my experiences with death have involved the dead person being already embalmed. For me the smell of death is lilies… too much time around funeral home flower arrangements…

  20. Brian X says


    If it was within the US jurisdiction, I’d suggest dumping him at ADX Florence, where I’d like to see Osama bin Laden wind up. That said, who knows what the Iraqis have for prison facilities, or if it’s even a good idea to imprison someone like Hussein within the country given the instability in the country.

  21. False Prophet says

    To answer your question, Brian X, we go back to the Nuremberg Trials. There, the guilty insisted on death by firing squad while the court upheld a sentence of hanging. The difference is execution by firearm is seen as having some implicit nobility–it was the traditional form of execution for spies for example: “You must be slain for your espionage, but we respect you as an enemy and thus grant you a quick death.”

    Hanging was traditionally the sentence of the petty criminal and thus it became the favoured sentence for all war criminals, to demonstrate that their crimes were beneath contempt, and they deserved an insulting and demeaning form of death (and indeed, the convicted at Nuremberg all slowly suffocated).

    That, and hanging is apparently the preferred method of execution in the Middle East.

  22. Pip says

    I can think of far more barbaric methods of execution. Beheading, for example. If you’re third in line and the sword has gotten dull, it takes more than one swing.

  23. llewelly says

    Llewelly, the link works for me. What did you have to do to get the link to work?

    Alon, first I typed in the uri for your blog. At that point ‘Death by Hanging’ did not appear on your blog, but I could read the other posts just fine. After I had read a few of those, I went back to the root of your blog and at that point the ‘Death by Hanging’ post appeared. Then I commented on that post. After that I thought nothing more of the matter until now. Now your link works. It’s as if there was some delay between you completing the post and it actually appearing on your blog. I can think of load-balancing and caching issues that could cause this behavior, but I don’t know.

  24. Tatarize says

    ICC would have been better.

    Execution is always wrong (unless the prisoner requests the punishment).

  25. says

    “the convicted at Nuremberg all slowly suffocated”

    As resident ScienceBlogs WWII afficianado, I second that request!

  26. Fernando Magyar says

    Homo Sapiens, what a most fascinating hypocritical creature you can be!

    To all of you above who have given justifications for supporting putting someone to death in the name of your personal twisted sense of “Justice”, “Revenge”, “Morality” yada yada yada…

    I have three words for describing you that have often been posted on this site, Demented Fuck Wits! You are no better than Saddam, Hitler, Stalin or your typical run of the mill axe murderer. Look in the mirror and see yourself!

    You add nothing to the betterment of our lot as human beings.

  27. Thinker says

    Naturally, sentencing should be done according to law, not for political reasons, but I believe the risk of a death sentence in this case is that of making Saddam a martyr. A has-been dictator, languishing in jail while more and more of the facts of his rule are uncovered and exposed to the public will do far less harm than executing him and thus making him a figurehead for anyone whose cause can benefit from it.

    If Iraq is going to turn the corner and go from worse to merely bad, I don’t think executing Saddam is going to help.

  28. writerdd says

    Yes, we are barbarians. And damned proud of it, apparetnly.

    Honestly, every day I am more and more embarassed to be an American. I think the true measure of the stupidity and depravity of this country came 2 years ago when GWB was elected president. I have a slight hope for some turns tomorrow, but mostly I’m pessimistic. This country is filled with stupid, bigoted, viotlent idiots. No, I do not love America. And I’m not embarassed to admit it either.

  29. says


    Two issues of agreement in one day???

    Watch it, PZ. You’re beginning to show signs of rationality.

  30. RyanG says

    Come on, you really ought to read the grand list of movie cliches or something.

    Killing the evil overlord does not make me as bad as he is.

    Certainly there is an argument to be made that this risks making him a martyr (I’m personally opposed to it for that reason) but that dose of realpolitik doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve to die, or that the Iraqi’s don’t deserve the opportunity to kill him.

    In a perfect world we would wait until nobody cares about him anymore, and then kill him.

  31. chriss says

    There was an interesting discussion on CBC this morning in regards to Saddams impending demise. Not so much the method or the morality of capital punishment,rather, the fact that if he is executed now he will evade answering for his oppression of the Kurds and the southern Shia, crimes involving the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraquis. Consider also that Saddam will continue to be a hero, conceivably a martyr, to many on Arab street outside of Iraq if he does not stand trial publicly.

    So why the rush to execute? Well there are questions of foreign support for Saddam that may arise during any future trials, questions that may implicate multinational corporations and western politicians in the mass murder of the Kurds and Shia. I, for one, would love to hear the answers and we won’t get jack out of him if he is dead.

  32. Chris says

    Killing Saddam, by any means, isn’t going to improve the situation in Iraq. It’s just as easy, if not easier, to rally around a corpse as a prisoner, and most of the factions in Iraq aren’t really pro-Saddam anyway. It’s all the stuff that would have boiled over years ago if Saddam hadn’t been holding the lid down.

    That being said, if you are going to kill him – the guillotine was invented for a reason. Although, arguably, certain poisons do an even better job. But hanging? Ugh.

    Of course, improving the situation in Iraq is not what this verdict is about. Anyone with a brain can understand the timing – it’s an attempt to distract _Americans_ from the huge fuckup in Iraq, Republican corruption, the latest violations of the Constitution and all the other issues that are going against the administration. What effect this will have on Iraq probably didn’t even cross their minds. They just need to manipulate enough Americans to stay in power.

  33. Steve Watson says

    I have to confess that people like Saddam test my commitment to being anti-death penalty. Emotionally, when someone has caused that much misery and death to so many innocent people, I have a hard time being upset at the idea that they will be put to death, and even that they may suffer a few minutes of pain before finally losing conciousness.

    Intellectually, I’m still against it. We should forebear — not for the sake of the guilty party, but for our own sakes.

  34. says

    Saddam worked for the CIA for a long, long time. He’s probably got more dirt on American leaders than any person alive, not that he’s the most credible witness. Still, as soon as he was caught there was no chance that he’d get a fair trial or stay alive.

    Incidentally, I agree with everyone here who says the death penalty is barbaric. Killing Saddam to show Saddam that he was wrong to kill people feels a little hypocritical to me.

  35. says

    So, who’s taking bets on how long it will take for the video of Saddam’s death to hit YouTube?

    I was just talking to someone about that the other day. The consensus was a week, although that ignores the possibility that Bush will just have it shown on primetime TV.

  36. says

    A local Tv station just asked the question, “should Saddam’s death sentence be made public?” Meaning televised live. I am stunned at how low this country has sunk.

  37. says

    Fernando Magyar, “fuckwit” is one word, not two. It’s so important to get these details right.

    I disagree that the video will take a week to hit YouTube. This is not a execution on American soil, or under American terms. I have no doubt that news organizations will be covering it live, and that the video will be made public immediately, possibly in realtime, to avoid any weird conspiracy theories (which will develop anyway). Whether Americans think it should or shouldn’t be covered won’t actually affect the coverage.

    I must remark again how ridiculous I find it that someone who supports capital punishment could condemn any particular method, regardless of its efficacy, as “unsavory” simply on aesthetic grounds. There are certain things to which aesthetic judgements do not apply, and moral outrages are one of these things, Baudelaire notwithstanding.

  38. Fernando Magyar says


    Thank you for your correction, you are right, it “is” all in the details…

  39. says

    Folks – it’s called justice. Waiting in his cell for his sentence to be carried out is what this “man” deserves. He doesn’t earn to live the rest of his life in some VIP cell, writing his memoirs. He deserves to experience a tiny bit of that terror and fear he instilled in his people.

    And yes – the hanging should definitely be broadcasted live all over the world. If you don’t like it don’t watch it.

  40. Kagehi says

    Its not about if it will have a “civilizing effect” on Iraq, its about what influence he might continue to have if in prison for life. Hell, we can’t keep drugs out of our own jails or prevent convicts from plotting to have their associates killed for ratting them out *in the US*, how the hell do you expect to keep Saddam locked up, completely disconnected from any allies and unable to incite everything from Sunni insurgent cells to a break out attempt in a place that barely has what “we” would legitimately call a prison system? I don’t personally get why the hell a *society* can’t make the same critical choice about the danger someone does pose to them as a person being threatened at gun point. What exactly is the rule? Once you get more than X number of people they are supposed to become stupid and incapable of defending themselves from lunatics, because suddenly “choosing” to do something permanent about them becomes unethical? I agree about 90% with those that think that locking people up is a more humane solution, the 10% I don’t agree with is when its not fucking practical to do so, you know irrefutably that they are mass murderers and there is a “real” and “tangible” threat they pose, just by being alive and a source of incitement for people intent on killing you. You will never convince me that there is something wrong about that 10%, because its a legitimate case of the entire tribe/clan/nation saying, “This ass is holding a gun to my head. Do I stand waiting to get shot like an idiot, or do something about it?” It makes no damn sense to keep this guy alive. Reserve the life sentences for people that you can’t be sure commited anything and can’t incite more death by their mere continued presense in the world. And no, you can’t “predict” if his death might cause some additional death instead, but right now, its a known fact that his living *is* inciting many of the Sunni to fight, in the hope of putting him back in charge. That fact can’t be refuted, every other preditions is pure speculation.

  41. Kagehi says

    Now, back to Saddam. Does anyone else detect a hint of “let’s kill him before he can say too much?”. It would be awfully convenient to perminently silence such a powerful source of embarassing revelations.

    What, you mean like the embarassing revelation that Iraq was in fact working on a Nuclear weapons programs, recently published about by the **normally** anti-war Times and then spun to make it sound like it wasn’t a really big deal? Of course, the only thing, according to the documents, that they where missing was “fusable materials”…

    The only thing Saddam *ever* did in any of his trials was rant about how he was still in charge and it was all invalid, then get thrown out. He had plenty of time to reveal any “embarrasing” information.

  42. Graculus says

    t is also unfortunate that Saddam wasn’t tried by the International Criminal Court, as I believe his crime could have merited. (Though perhaps there was specific reasons to abstain, I can’t remember.)

    I beleive that the “out” on the ICC is that if the “host” country is willing and able to hold the trial themselves, they can. They are a court of last resort.

    As for the death penalty.. I’m not giving the government permission to kill me.

  43. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    D. Eppstein wrote:

    Yet another instance of the supposed Christians disregarding their book’s teachings. Romans 12:19.

    Oh, please! If you want Biblical justification:
    Genesis 9:6

  44. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    Acteon wrote:

    Everybody, and I mean everybody, in favor of the death penalty should be called up (like jury duty) to carry out the execution at some point in their life.

    Sounds good to me. Where do I sign up?

  45. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    P Z Myers wrote:

    … it doesn’t make sense to respond to brutality with more brutality.

    Hanging, shooting or giving a lethal injection to Saddam is hardly equivalent, in terms of brutality, to what he did to his victims. Not even close.

  46. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    Graculus wrote:

    As for the death penalty.. I’m not giving the government permission to kill me.

    Too late, they already have permission.

  47. Graculus says

    Too late, they already have permission.

    I’m not USian, we don’t have the death penalty.

  48. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    Graculus wrote:

    I’m not USian, we don’t have the death penalty.

    The government doesn’t need the death penalty to kill you. Under certain circumstances, neither would I to kill you nor you to kill me. If we allow that killing is justified in certain circumstances, why not in the case of offenders who have killed others without any justification?

  49. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Unfortunately I still lack understanding in what generally seems to drive US to bilateral instead of general agreements. Any suggestions for reading material?

    “How the hell do you expect to keep Saddam locked up, completely disconnected from any allies and unable to incite everything from Sunni insurgent cells to a break out attempt in a place that barely has what “we” would legitimately call a prison system?”

    To be fair, I don’t think he needed to be held in an Iraq prison. But yes, those are definitely legitimate concerns in such a case.

    Some other prisoners have quite a following of different deviants, but these are indeed special circumstances. Death penalty shouldn’t be a taboo unnecessarily – but it is a penalty that usually ridicules the “justice” in the justice system because of all the false positives. Again, this is special.

    But for me, there is no good reason to stop a perpetrator from living out the rest of his/her days in misery behind bars.

    But foremost, death penalty promotes perpetrators to become excessively aggressive to try to avoid punishment at any cost, and this is still a factor here, amplified beyond any reasonable proportion. How many dies in vain because of the fears of dictators, not only for murder but also for trials by the next regime?

    “I beleive that the “out” on the ICC is that if the “host” country is willing and able to hold the trial themselves, they can. They are a court of last resort.”

    Yes, I think so too. Moreover, since I wrote that comment I either vaguely remembered (probably) or again come to the conclusion that this is always the best – any system should act as direct and distributed as possible. Though temporary deviations could be made to help establish a new system, and this would such an opportunity.