The "Cruel Theater," "Abusive Conduct" of Saddam's Execution

No good deed goes unpunished? Fallout from the execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein still dominates the Times, and it's not just conservatives who see some definite themes emerging from the massive coverage.

Slate's "Today's Papers" column noticed even back on Sunday: "TP couldn't help but pick up on the distinct strain of grudging admiration that ran through the NYT's coverage of Hussein's trip to the gallows. An early edition of the paper's lead story said that although the witnesses it interviewed were enemies of the dictator, 'their accounts of the execution were redolent of respect for the way in which their former tormentor died.' The final edition version of the story omits the prior passage but says the widely broadcast videotape of the event suggested that he 'lived his final moments with unflinching dignity and courage, reinforcing the legend of himself as the Arab world's strongman.' An accompanying front-page piece about the dictator's final moments relates that he 'looked strong, confident and calm." A fitting final performance, I suppose, for a master propagandist.'"

Indeed, Andy McCarthy collected several examples from the Times of strange coverage of Hussein's execution at National Review Online's "The Corner."

Here's an extended excerpt from McCarthy:

"There is, naturally, 'Around the World, Unease And Criticism of Penalty,' by Alan Cowell, typical of which is this drivel from Tim Hames, of the Times of London:'Mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe now regards the death penalty as being as ethically tainted as the crimes that produced the sentence.'Of course, this reflects - and could only reflect - not the sentiment of the mainstream middle-class but of elite opinion in Europe, particularly of transnational progressive intellectualswho long for a post-sovereign Euro-state.Commonsense people, even those uneasy about or opposed to capital punishment, have no difficulty distinguishing the evil behind the crime and their reservations about the punishment.It is only the intelligentsia, which questions the very existence of 'evil,' that consequently finds itself without a compass for such moral and ethical distinctions.

"But the stand-out isHassan M.Fattah'sstory,under the inane headline:'For Arab Critics, Hussein's Execution Symbolizes the Victory of Vengeance Over Justice'.Memo to the Times:First, very often, vengeance is justice; that is why the most civilized societies (those based on ordered liberty) demand that the punishment fit the crime. Second, this is an especially counterintuitiveheadline and theme for a story that purports to conveythe cultural sense of the Islamic world (indeed, a story illustrated with a depiction of thousands of'pilgrims' in Mena, Saudi Arabia, observing the Eid)."

[End of excerpt]

Then there was Sabrina Tavernise's "news analysis" on Monday, "For Sunnis, Dictator's Degrading End Signals Ominous Dawn for the New Iraq."

Tavernise began: "For Sunni Arabs here, the ugly reality of the new Iraq seemed to crystallize in a two-minute segment of Saddam Hussein's hanging, filmed surreptitiously on a cellphone....It was supposed to be a formal and solemn proceeding carried out by a dispassionate state. But the grainy recording of the execution's cruel theater summed up what has become increasingly clear on the streets of the capital: that the Shiite-led government that assumed power in the American effort here is running the state under an undisguised sectarian banner....It was a degrading end for a vicious leader, and an ominous beginning for the new Iraq. The Bush administration has already scaled back its hopes for a democracy here. But as the Iraqi government has become ever more set on protecting its Shiite constituency, often at the expense of the Sunni minority, the goal of stopping the sectarian war seems to be slipping out of reach."

The paper's official obituary by Times Watch favorite Neil MacFarquhar gets credit for calling Hussein a "dictator" in the headline: "Saddam Hussein, Defiant Dictator Who Ruled Iraq With Violence and Fear."

But here's some of Jeff Zeleny's front-page "news analysis," "Joys of Capture Muted at End - Grim Realities in Iraq Alter the Tone for Bush."

"Now, what could have been a triumphal bookend to the American invasion of Iraq has instead been dampened by the grim reality of conditions on the ground there. Mr. Hussein's hanging means that the ousted leader has been held accountable for his misdeeds, fulfilling the American war aim most cited by the White House after Iraq's weapons of mass destruction proved nonexistent.

"But that war is now edging toward its fifth year, and the sectarian violence that has surged independent of any old Sunni or Baathist allegiances to Mr. Hussein has raised questions about what change, if any, his death might bring."

Wednesday's lead story by John Burns and James Glanz continued finding the downside to the death of the dictator: "Iraq To Examine Abusive Conduct Toward Hussein."

"Iraq's Shiite-led government said Tuesday that it had ordered an investigation into the abusive behavior at the execution of Saddam Hussein, who was subjected to a battery of taunts by official Shiite witnesses and guards as he awaited his hanging.

"Officials said a three-man Interior Ministry committee would look into the scenes that have caused outrage and public demonstrations among Mr. Hussein's Sunni Arab loyalists in Iraq, and widespread dismay elsewhere, especially in the Middle East. In an unofficial cellphone video recording that was broadcast around the world and posted on countless Web sites, Mr. Hussein is shown standing on the gallows platform with the noose around his neck at dawn on Saturday, facing a barrage of mockery and derision from unseen tormentors below the gallows."