Question asked of Jerusalem Post columnists: "Your thoughts on this historic day in which former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging." For all replies, see "Burning Issues #10: Saddam on death row"
What to do with captured dictators? This has become an occasional problem for the US government at least since the defeat of the Axis in 1945.
Fortunately, Hitler committed suicide and partisans dispatched Mussolini. But the emperor of Japan was given a free pass and remained in office until 1989.
Two dozen high officials of the Nazi regime were sentenced and judged at the Nuremberg trials of 1945-46, with a number of them hanged; just imagine those proceedings had Hitler been the 25th defendant. In contrast, the far less evil Manuel Noriega of Panama has been since 1989 in an American jail cell, where he serves a 40-year sentence for drug-trafficking.
In contrast to all these cases, the Bush administration distanced itself from the disposition of Saddam Hussein by leaving his fate in Iraqi hands. His Iraqi judges just sentenced Saddam and two aides to death for their role in the massacre of 148 Iraqis in the town of Dujail in 1982.
This circumstance involves several dilemmas:
Allowing a dictator to rot in jail creates the fewest political problems but denies justice to those who suffered his oppression, whereas executing him provides the needed emotional closure but also may provoke further political turmoil.
Permitting a dictator to die a relatively painless death (by hanging or firing squad) is the decent thing to do; but submitting him to the same torture he inflicted on others would both provide psychological release for his victims and serve as a deterrent to other despots.
Turning a dictator over for judgment by co-nationals may save the Americans grief but at the expense of exacerbating local tensions (in this case, Sunni-Shi'ite relations).
There are no good answers. (November 5, 2006)