Friday, January 19

Death of A President?

NPR yesterday had a story that an aide to Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki defended the execution of Saddam Hussein. Turns out Italy is working on a UN resolution to ban the death penalty worldwide, and the Iraqi guy pointed out that Italian WWII leader Mussolini "was strung up on a lamppost."

Shorter Iraqi defense: what are you Eye-talians getting so uppity about, heh?

I've taught World War II history a couple times and I couldn't remember Mussolini getting strung up on a lamppost. Google Google Google...

Nope. He was shot by commies and then the commies who shot him to death let him "rest" for the night, so he would look really good the next day when they hung him by his feet from a meat hook at the town gate of Milan, along with his also gunned down mistress and fifteen of his entourage.

Joey Tony (sorry, I don't have a television as Qwerty "the Finn" pointed out in comments) Soprano would be proud. And let the historical record stand corrected, too.

Left wing bloggers were correctly outraged by the snuff movie of Saddam. Certainly all of us knew enough about technology and human nature to know that there would be one, and that it would be available to anyone with a modem.

I was brought up short by all of these threads while doing the blog roundup over at Crooks and Liars. Someone sent me a link to a post they'd written, which as an aside suggested that a certain potential Presidential candidate might have to worry about assassination. I don't need to go any further than that and I won't, and I didn't link the post. (I had nothing against that particular blogger and linked to another post in his same blog.) You see, I don't want that possibility breathed anywhere near me, and I did not want to give larger audience to the thought, either.

I doubt my efforts will keep the lid on, nor do I suspect that crazies out there need any help from me in coming up with sick ideas.

But then we have much of the liberal blogosphere calling, with no small sense of justice, for war crimes tribunals for Rummy and Bush and the lot of them. If, and if, and if, what exactly do you think the sentence would be for their crimes against humanity? Should the leadership responsible for Abu Gahrib be hung by the neck until dead? Isn't that impetus the same felt by Italian Communists in the 1940's and the Iraqi "leadership" this month? Hell, Ben Metcalf in Harper's Magazine didn't sugarcoat it:

"Am I allowed to write that I would like to hunt down George W. Bush, the president of the United States, and kill him with my bare hands?"

I have a small poster in my workroom that says "I am against the death penalty. Look what happened to Jesus Christ." But does this mean, Jesus was put to death unjustly, or beware, he was elevated to martyrdom against the wishes of his slayers? We must be very careful what we wish for.

UPDATE: I remembered that none other than Al Franken has recommmended that we "never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President."

A long book, not for the beach, but well-written and recommended: The Langum Prize Winner by Stuart Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History. Among other things it illustrates how our society has attempted to "sanitize" the death penalty over time to take away pain, lethal injection being only the latest attempt. (Electric Chair was seen as a great leap forward over hanging at one point. Faster and more "humane" if you can imagine.)

UPDATE 2: Interesting conversation over the Casa Blue Gal dinner table tonight. There is a difference between "execution" and "assassination" and one reason so many are arguing about Saddam's death is that his end blurred the lines between the two. Mussolini was executed by a political "party" willing to take responsibility for his death, but they were not the official government at the time. The legitimacy of the current Iraqi government plays into this whole debate, as well.


  1. Anonymous6:18 PM

    Thanks to Metcalf for putting my daily fantasy into print.

  2. Anonymous7:47 PM

    You really don't have an eye of hell, do you? It's Tony Soprano.

    And I'm not certain, but I think that what Metcalf wrote is, in fact, illegal. Personally, I'd love for Bushie to die of old age in a real prison -- the kind with actual bars and without a golf course.

  3. Anonymous9:20 PM

    Blue Gal -

    As you already know, I am a life-long opponent of the Death Penalty; I do not think the State should have the right or the ability to execute its citizens.

    Given that, I nevertheless would like to see this entire administration go before a judge for their war crimes and crimes against humanity. I would like to see them spend the rest of their unnatural lives behind bars. And when, like bad milk, they do expire, I would not mind seeing them festooned about on posts.

    Whoever wants my vote in 2008 only has to promise that they will sign the International Criminal Court Treaty, and with a retroactive signing statement have it apply starting in 2000.

    Not that I'm bitter.



  4. Anonymous9:55 PM

    I'm with Qwerty and Tengrain,BG, though I think your post is chock full of food for thought (and research)and I truly appreciate it. I think that at least one high level war criminal from the Third Reich spent the rest of his natural life in prison--perhaps a "fate worse than death"--and well deserved. Again, food for thought (and action).

  5. Anonymous9:57 PM

    Whoops..I signed my note wrong..."I'm with Qwerty and Tengrain" is from me.

  6. Anonymous1:45 AM

    I must admit that because of my red state upbringing and Reagan Democrat/Libertarian father, I was taught to believe in capital punishment.

    However, recently seeing execution in the person of Saddam Hussein and relatives---and feeling not blood vengeance but an internal groan has made me realize that violence begets violence.

    So consider me a recent convert.

    Alabama was one of the last states to switch from the electric chair: yellow momma as it was called. Siegleman, now indicted for federal charges passed the lethal injection bill. One of a handful of good things he did for the state.

    Blue Gal, what is the manner of execution state-by-state, and is that a 10th amendment right and if so, by what SCOTUS ruling? -

  7. this is a great post, BG, and equally thoughtful comments by readers. As a small footnote to the history of capital punishment that you reference, the guillotine was considered a huge step forward for making the act of killing more humane. More humane than say, hanging . . . which in fact had been the practice of the day.

    But, I digress. I am firmly opposed to the death penalty, no matter the crime. And while I might fantasize about kick-boxing W and Cheney and Rummy and all the rest of those murderers who have desecrated and fouled everything good about our country, it is only a fantasy to get me through another grueling aerobics workout.

    I have seen death - close-up and personal - and even under the best of circumstances, it has its own natural violence that is shocking. People who support capital punishment, I'm guessing, have a sanitized vision of death in their heads based on television, cartoons, movies and video games. There is some small part of me that would agree with people who would make criminal executions public because I believe the experience would change people's point of view on capital punishment. After all, if we as a society agree to impose capital punishment, we shouldn't be shielded from its reality.

    What's happened in Iraq this past month is barbarism, but for us to think that we are better because our methods are different is a sort of hubris that is tearing apart the moral center of our society.

  8. Re: Metcalf's question -
    From the U. S. Code:
    TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 41 > § 871
    § 871. Threats against President and successors to the Presidency
    (a) Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

  9. I think the best punishment for war crimes wold be to lock George, the Big Dick, and Rummy into a 3X3 cell for eternity.

    They should also be waterboarded every 20 minutes so the asshats know that "standing for prolonged periods" and waterboarding can be torture.

    The death penalty isn't good enough for them. They'd give an executioner a bad name.

  10. Don I appreciate that, but Ben Metcalf's article could also be defended as parody, hypothetical fantasy, etc. And actually you wouldn't need to go that far, since his article was a muse on the application of the exact law you quote. It could be seen as legal philosophy. Protected speech, according to my ACLU partner in life.

  11. Anonymous12:35 PM

    I appreciate Threading Water's comments about what watching an execution would do to some of us. To some extent, that might be preaching to the choir. Think about lynching in the U.S., and public executions in London, England,some centuries ago. These became a form of entertainment. Killing debases all of us. To watch it, and become used to it, could do the same. I consider a true life sentence, in a real prison, with no fame and glory, a fate worse than death--not something serial killers look forward to.

  12. Anonymous10:00 PM

    I can remember when a PBS station in California sued the state to get permission to telecast an execution on live television. The thought was then that if everyone could see how awful the death penalty was, it would be stopped.

    Now we use cell phones to send the footage to our friends, and to post on YouTube. They probably could've sold it to pay-per-view. Fox would've loved that. Think of the money they would've made from all the Hannity/Savage/Limbaugh listener types..

    As for whether the members of our own junta should be tried, etc., the answer is yes, I think they are war criminals, but no, I wouldn't want to see them executed. I don't want to see ANYONE executed. No, stick them in a cell and make them listen to talk radio all day. Or Toby Keith records. That'd be worse than anything that might happen to them in Gitmo...

  13. Anonymous11:14 PM

    I'll admit: I am not sorry that Saddam Hussein's gone. That said, I was still creeped out by the footage of of Hussein being led to the gallows. Watching that footage on CNN in the morning was...chilling. Evil dictator or no evil dictator.


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