Saddam Hussein verdict coverage

Saddam Hussein verdict photoI’ve just made my first official complaint to the BBC over its coverage of Saddam Hussein’s trial verdict this morning.

I was watching News 24 and was appalled to hear the presenters relishing the prospect of Hussein being given the death sentence (he has been), discussing in some detail how he might be killed. They were also creating a build-up to Hussein’s sentence by pointing out that the sentences were getting increasingly severe.

There were lots of repetitions of a judge’s quote saying he hopes Saddam “gets what he deserves”, and Iraqi studio guests saying that a death sentence was great news. And – even though no one was allowed on the streets of Baghdad – saying that most people would be celebrating the verdict.

I’m sorry but at what point did the UK’s historic opposition to the death penalty get thrown out the window in the interests of tabloid speculation and excitement?

There have been very long, very intelligent and passionate debates over the death sentence which resulted in the end of hanging in the UK in 1965 (preceded by the Homicide Act of 1957). Since then, the matter has been the subject of hot debate approximately every 10 years, and every time the argument against the death penality has won, building a foundation of cultural thought and logic where our more base instincts have been subsumed by rational argument.

To see all that given up and ignored because it makes better television, and because of the strange madness that exists around this so-called War on Terror, makes me despair. Since 2001, we have gradually started ignoring all the lessons of the First and Second World Wars. If you ever wanted to know how humanity never manages to learn its lessons, and so is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, you can see it today, when the guilty verdict of Saddam Hussein should have been welcomed, but the death sentence condemned.

Margaret Beckett

Just while I’m despairing, the Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has pointedly refused to condemn the death sentence. “I welcome that Saddam Hussein and the other defendants have faced justice and have been held to account for their crimes. Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice.”

I’m appalled. News 24 has managed to get back on its feet thanks to John Simpson giving the coverage a bit of gravitas, and has got in one of Hussein’s legal team in the studio, who has said in response to Beckett’s statement: “Margaret Beckett has made a mistake. This wasn’t decided under Iraqi law – this was US law.”

Whatever you think about Hussein, the Iraq War and the US government’s involvement, that statement is entirely true. The judge even read out that Hussein was being sentenced on the basis of Iraqi criminal law brought in in 2005.

I don’t want people to support Saddam Hussein, he was a gangster, a murderer, a dictator, an appalling and dreadful man. But I despair of my country and how the politicians have given up condemning torture (actually trying to overturn rules in Europe so we can officially turn a blind eye), and have now given up on the principled position of opposing the death sentence. When it would have cost nothing at all to have said “we welcome the verdict but oppose the sentence”.

That the BBC lost its way and joined in this circus makes me sad. It has since recovered itself and the professionalism has kicked back in.

John Simpson

That much is thanks to John Simpson, the BBC’s World Affairs editor, who has himself been subject to a death sentence issued by Hussein. Simpson’s experience and wisdom came pouring through.

This was his first comment, having sat in the courtroom, and been “less than a yard” from Hussein when he was led out: “Saddam arrived looking extremely dapper. His beard neatly trimmed, he has a very expensive copy of the Koran in his hand. He refused to stand up, and so four ushers made him stand up. He shouted at them – don’t bend my arm, don’t bend my arm.

“The judge read through the fairly short verdict on him while Saddam was shouting back at him. Almost the first thing the judge said was that he would suffer the death sentence by hanging. Saddam was also sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years for torture. At end, Saddam said ‘Long live Iraq, long live the Iraqi people’.

“I can’t have been more than a yard from him when he was led out. Had a quiet sort of smile that said ‘yes I have been able to do what I wanted to do’.”

Asked what he thought personally, Simpson fell back on his journalistic objectivity: “My own view doesn’t really matter very much. But I will say it has been the most extraordinary time – almost like a gangster movie where a young man, brought up for violent acts, becomes president, and now we see him sentenced to execution.

“It depends who you are – most Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis will be absolutely delighted. But alot of Sunnis – not necessarily supporters of Saddam – will see that their last supporter has gone, and there will be some anger and some sadness.”

Now *that* is how to approach it. Provide facts, no opinion. Provide background and insight, not excitement and bloodlust.

Saddam’s words

Saddam’s words were translated soon after Simpson’s first piece. “Down with the traitors, down with the invaders, god is great, god is great,” he said. He paused briefly before then shouting out a number of slogans including “long live the nation”.

When told which articles and clauses he was being sentenced under, he cried out: “Go to hell with your law and your articles and clauses.” As the judge read out the sentence undeterred, he shouted: “I curse the agents, I curse you, God is great. You are the mouthpiece of colonalism. You are the enemy of the Iraqi people. Death to the invaders.”

BBC back on its feet

Suddenly the BBC got its act together. Previously they had cut to their correspondent in Baghdad who was outside amid sounds of gunfire. This was, he said, “celebratory gunfire”. The BBC news anchor’s news brain kicked in next time they went back to the correspondent: “Are you sure it was celebratory gunfire?”

A bloody good point. How exactly do you tell the difference between the gunfire that kills you stone dead and that other type of gunfire, the celebratory kind.

Since then, the BBC has pulled in some more knowledgeable and less excitable people that have managed to give the verdict some context – how Iraqis are happy that Hussein has been found guilty, but unsettled that it was done through a US-sponsored court, with US law pulled into their country.

But, just to repeat my main point again: where is the UK’s historic opposition to the death sentence? How long until the Home Secretary is recommending we open the debate on hanging again? Only for those found guilty of terrorism of course.

We are entering dark times. And if the BBC loses its way by failing to report on current affairs without the full consideration of history behind it, it is all too easy to see how our society’s hard-fought-for values will be squandered.

  1. Excellent article and I agree completely. I have a feeling a slightly more measured response. John Reid in interview this morning basically went along the line of “whatever one thinks of the outcome, this was a democratic instance of the Iraqi people seeing justice from the ground up rather than opposed on them”. Of course, the question of the independence of the court is itself another issue of debate.

  2. The verdict coming, curiously enough, just two days before the midterm elections in America has caused me to wonder.

  3. The verdict of guilty, like the trial, itself is farce and an abuse of justice. It sends a clear message to the Iraqi people: if they want to defend themselves they cannot look to law, they cannot look to the US government, they cannot look to the occupation government the US setup in Iraq…they must defend themselves using all necessary means by which national liberation movements are permitted to defend themselves.

    The trial has been declared unfair by every independent expert who has reviewed it. It constitutes the worse form of “victors’ injustice.”

    While the verdict was written by the occupying powers thousands of Iraqis have died because these same people can’t provide basic security in the country they illegally invaded.

    The arrogant abuse of the law is part and parcel of the illegal invasion of Iraq and the US supported oppression of the Palestinian people for decades, and the US supported invasion of Lebanon. All of these were attacks on Arabs, on Muslims, on the people the US administration believes are their enemies. All of these are unmitigated violations of international law killing thousands of unarmed innocent Arab Muslims.

    The trial of Saddam Hussein violated human rights to so serious an extent that no trial in modern history tat has been so prominent compares to it.

    First, the trial was the direct result of multiple violations of international law, especially the illegal crime of aggression perpetrated against the Iraqi people.

    Second, the trial was undertaken by a court set up and controlled by the United States, an occupying power. This violates the express provisions of international humanitarian law in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    Third, the trial was plagued by insecurity that saw defense lawyers, judges, and witnesses killed or intimidated. When the defense lawyers complained they were told there was nothing more that could be done. They were told not to complain about the murder of four defense lawyers by person allegedly connected to the Iraqi government.

    The defense was given no time and no facilities to prepare a defense, even the President’ money was stolen from him when he was captured by the Americans. All exculpating evidence was withheld from the defense; defense witnesses were threatened by court officials; defense lawyers were assaulted by US officials; and the defendants we not given the charges against them until eight months after the prosecution had started presenting evidence and the day the defense was required to start its case. The list of violations is long and undoubtedly the reason why every independent expert has found the trial unfair.

    Most notably, on 1 September 2006, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the body tasked by the international community to determine when and if a fair trial has been held or a detention is arbitrary, decided that the trial was unfair and that a fair trial could not take place before the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

    In short this trial is one of the worst abuses of justice in history. It is victors’ injustice and it is an injustice to everyone involved from the participants to the victims. It is dark day for the international community, a day in which the rule of law has been eclipsed by victors’ injustice.

  4. Hussein was (and is) a monster. People have tended to forget just how brutal he was while in power, due to a few years now of seeing him more as a pitiful old man in a court room. I am left mute by the ‘death sentence’ verdict though, and it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. Usually I share my opinion on these things to my family. But I and my whole family were just silent today. We don’t know how to react to this. Considering nearly 50,000 people have died as a result of the so called “Liberation” of Iraq. Bush/Blair need to go on trial too, and in a sane world, Bush (and his henchmen Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the Neocons) would be locked away for the rest of their natural lives. Hussein is rightly guilty on the charges of murder. But the death penalty just makes me squirm. It is a U.S death sentence done by proxy.

  5. The verdict coming, only on the based of the coming U.S. elections. HERE NO JUSTICE. In the whole world, people life and the public peace collapsed by the american’s policies.

  6. From all the stories related to Saddam’s sentence to deat, I must admit that yours stroke me as a well-written higly investigated piece. That’s why I’d like o invite you to post your story at, the news Web Site where I work (or I can do it for you if you allow me to).

    Orato comes from the Latin and it means “I speak.” That is exactly what you will find in this site: people. We put a human face on the news by showcasing vivid, first-person stories from individuals involved in current events. Whether it is politics, sports, entertainment, science, love or war, Orato is capturing news in its rawest form. We are a celebration of every person’s right to be heard in their own words.

    I’d be happy and honoured to post your story. As you’ll notice, we feature uncensored statements from the famous and the infamous, using the power of the self-publishing tools to make readers part of every story.

  7. Why just Iraq, lets do Africa and Korea next, I wouldn’t like to be in Blairs shoes at the pearly gates.

  8. I agree completely.

  9. I wouldn’t said it was particularly investigative – I just listened to the news, read a few things, and knew a small amount about the death penality in the UK, but thankyou. And yes, please feel free to post it on your site, so long as you give me credit and a link.


  10. i hate Saddam Husein, i saw a video once of a poor man who was made into pieces just becouse of the fun of it by Sadams Huseins officials (they put gun powder in his jucket while he was sobbing, all this without trial, executors were smiling on camera)

    At that moment i thought that Sadam deserved to be put to death the same way. But for the sake of precious western civilization, he should stay alive and imprisoned for rest of his life.

    Maybe Usa considers him dangerous politically still now, and they want him dead (they have no problem with death sentence practise)

    But european countries or media should really discuss what level of civilization is this verdict portraying

  11. In reply, to the defense was given no time to prepare, well neither were the families that saddam killed or had killed. Neither did the children (little girls) have time to prepare before they were raped, I could care less about the weapons of mass destruction that he harbored in Iraq, what bothers me is all the inocent people who were murdered and the poor girls who didn’t die get to live with the image of their families being killed and lots of those girls and I do mean girls hell he kept a record of it, that get to live with being raped at such a age that they will never forget. If in the U.S. we carried out executions as fast as this was done, maybe the rapes and murders of these girls would stop, and if you see it any other way then maybe you shouldv;e been hung with him!!! What if that was your family>Create your own friendquiz here

  12. executed… finaly

  13. The most important element of any civilised society is that the rule of law is applied fairly and equitably to all, regardless of what crime they have committed.

    It is also the case that a large number of people are found innocent during court processes, so it is fundamental that the system is built such that it is not possible for a judge or jury to pre-judge a case.

    There is no doubt at all that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless and violent man. He was a murderer. He caused countless unnecessary deaths and deeply damaged his own country. But the fact remains that his trial was unfair and manipulated.

    I have no idea why the US forces didn’t shoot him when they found him. That would have achieved the same result but without the unpleasant undermining of higher principles.


  14. There’s no “finally” about it. He was killed within a day of his fasttracked appeal of a flawed legal case.

    I also see no point in revelling in the death of anyone. Once you agree with the death of one person, you make the death of another more acceptable – an individual who someone else believes is just as deserving to die but with whom you may entirely disagree.

    Personally I think keeping Saddam in a jail cell for the rest of his life would have been a more fitting punishment.


  15. Hmmm …I’ve read most of the comments here and I am curious about something…how many of you were ever forced to watch a loved one tortured to death or executed if front or your eyes becuase he or she sttod up for their beliefs or for trying to protect their family or maybe just becuase their neighbor down the way opposed the leader of the country and your loved one did business with or knew this person? I wonder how many of Sadam’s victims recieved fair trials? Maybe the Kurdish people he gassed got a fair trial before they were suffocated and burned to death…ya think? Too bad they hung him..I would have thought stoning by the relatives and survivors of his victims would’ve been far more appropriate. I only hope that none of you here ever loose the rights you have to speak out as you do now and voice your views on any matter you choose, if those rights are ever lost, your relatives may one day very well experience the jubilation that the survivors of Sadam Husein are expieriencing.
    But then that could never happen in the U.S. or the U.K., or anywhere else in the west…right? The future may prove that statement to be in error…

  16. What utterly emotive bunkem. You are having a conversation with yourself here Doug, and not a particularly interesting or insightful one.

    Go read some history books.


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