By Peter Caddick-Adams
What should happen to rulers found guilty of mass murder? The death sentence pronounced on Saddam Hussein has split the international community, but history shows there has never been a benchmark punishment for such awful crimes.
Indian communists protest against Saddam's death penalty
The outspoken opposition of France, Italy and Finland to Saddam Hussein's death sentence, contrasted with Tony Blair's reluctant displeasure and George Bush's seeming endorsement highlight the international moral divide about the ultimate judicial punishment.
There is a strong case for Saddam's judges not to sink to the depths that Saddam himself did in disregarding human life. On the other hand, a failure to implement the ultimate sanction may well be interpreted as weakness in a region where capital punishment is common.
The eminent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has suggested a third way - exile in a far land; the Falkland Islands, he says.
Mr Robertson draws a parallel with Napoleon's exile to St Helena in the South Atlantic, but that ignores the fact that banishment to an island had previously failed in Napoleon's case.
Having directly and indirectly caused the deaths of four- to six-million soldiers and civilians in his campaigns that ranged from Moscow to Madrid, there was, not surprisingly, a move to execute the man when he was forced to surrender in 1814.
Instead, he was exiled to Elba, a small island off the coast of Italy, only to escape back to France within a year. He promptly marched into Paris, flanked by loyal troops.
Sent into exile, Napoleon escaped and returned to France
Defeated shortly afterwards at Waterloo, Napoleon's foremost marshal, Michel Ney, was executed by firing squad. But it was his vanquisher, the Duke of Wellington - perhaps as one soldier to another - who shielded the Frenchman until the British government opted for his exile in his final resting place, St Helena.
Scroll forward little more than 100 years, and the world was confronted with a similar dilemma, with Kaiser Wilhelm II, widely perceived to have initiated the World War I.
The Kaiser's abdication, brought about by military anarchy within Germany, saw him forced into exile in the neutral Netherlands at the end of the war.
When all sides met a year later to hammer out the Treaty of Versailles, they specifically called for the Kaiser's prosecution "for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties". Yet the Dutch queen, Wilhelmina, refused to extradite him, despite appeals from the Allies. He eventually died, in exile in June 1941.
When, 60 years ago, verdicts were handed down in the Nuremberg Trials of senior Nazis, there was a less sparing attitude.
But even then, the winning powers found it difficult to agree on what to do with those found responsible for the horrors perpetrated by the Third Reich.
Deprived of trying Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler, 21 representative Nazi leaders were put on trial and accused of a range of offences including the new crime of genocide.
The courtroom at Nuremberg, in which 21 Nazis were tried
Eleven were found guilty and hanged (Goering cheated the gallows by taking poison the night before), seven were sentenced to varying terms in Spandau Prison and three were acquitted.
It was a shadow of Stalin's suggestion that 50,000 of the most senior Nazis be executed.
Although the prosecution accused the Nazi defendants of crimes that were not criminal in international law at the time they were committed, the eventual sentences were less important that the verdicts and helped establish exactly what states were allowed to do in civil and international conflicts.
When it came to dealing with another of the chief Axis powers, Japan, the problem was that she had not signed the Geneva Convention, so technically was not in breach of it.
Nevertheless, in another legal departure, 25 military and political leaders were charged with offences categorised as Class A (crimes against peace), Class B (war crimes), or Class C (crimes against humanity) in the key Tokyo War Trials of 1946-8.
All were found guilty by a panel of judges from 11 nations. Seven were hanged, 16 sentenced to life and two received shorter sentences.
Despite attempts to put him on trial, Japan's Emperor Hirohito lived to 1989
But, notably, Japan's Imperial family, headed by its emperor, was spared and, indeed, continued to reign. And while in Germany and Japan there were other, related, trials of lesser war criminals, critics pointed out no Allied personnel were charged with war crimes. This was despite documented evidence of Stalin's excesses.
Such lengthy, public trials are rare. Romania's dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, was tried and executed by his fellow countrymen in just four days, pointing up the contemporary belief that modern dictators, like Saddam, should be tried by their peers.
Today, the international community has arrived at a broad consensus of what is acceptable behaviour, but has established no permanent international mechanism to convict those politicians and generals who transgress.
The two current tribunals for crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are temporary arrangements and, argue some, one-sided. In this sense, Goering's scribbled note when first indicted with war crimes in 1946, has a ring of familiarity: "The victors will always be the judge and the vanquished the accused."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
Idi Amin's life of luxury in Saudi until his death shows what exiling dictators can result in.
Tony Rogers, Poole
What about Chairman Mao? He was responsible for between 20 and 40 million Chinese deaths, yet his portrait is still on the front of all Chinese currency!
Paul B, Guildford, UK
The death sentence should be used very sparingly and only when there is no question of a miscarriage of justice.
In Saddam's case it would seem to be mandatory, as with the political shambles in the middle-east (not just Iraq), anything else would leave the possibility that in a few years somebody would let him out again and he'd get back in power - just as Napolean almost did. As for sending him to the Falklands: what have the islanders (and I used to be one) done to deserve this? Robertson should be charged with human rights abuses in the Stanley court for such a suggestion!
Dave, Katwijk, Netherlands
Any ruler and associates found guilty of crimes against humanity, mass murders, fraud or anything should be tried and sentanced just like any other human accused of any crime. As Saddam has been tried and sentanced in Iraq then maybe the world should allow him to be sentanced as their laws depict. The laws of each country you are in should be respected even if disagreed with, but I am aware their are countries that have a law society that disrespects its civilians and their human rights, so this makes it all the more a debate of what the world should do with such a tyrant, well what iraq itself should decide in this case. I was going to suggest allowing him to serve the rest of his life imprisoned in some place like Isreal, but that would only aggrevate such a sentative situation and make Isreal more of a target. I do not think it is up to America or Europe but the courts and people of the country of the ruler themselves who should have the decisions and outcome of any trials.
Justin, Bristol UK
Indeed it is joyous day when Saddam is brought to Justice. It will bring solace to millions of souls and will be lessons for all terrorists.
Syed Naqvi, Addison, IL USA
Mr Hussein may have killed his own people but Blair has attacked a foreign country and murdered Men women and children indiscriminately. Fine if you're doing Hussein retrospectively, why not do Blair currently ( and do us all a favour ) Mind you did Blair and Co not get rid of hanging for treason as soon a s he came to power ?? (And Why? / )
mark williams, redditch
There is no glory or satisfaction achieved by terminating the life of anyone ,no matter how despicable.The execution lowers the ones ordering it as barbaric in principle.This is a no way situation,if Saddam dies he becomes a martyr,if not he is still a threat as a rallying point for insurgents. Iraq is a total mess,our troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible ,our help,assistance and presence is not solving anything constructive.Support Iraq but let them come to us as our efforts are counterproductive in the present situation.
Tim McMahon, pennar/wales
The trial of Sadamm Husein was a farce and the whole world knows it, but, he probably knew too much about his former suppliers of WMD so he was doomed from the start, with his neutral judges dismissed and defence lawyers killed,his fate was determined even before his arrest. Iraq has to do what Bush wants it to do.Thesecond "trial" is to ensure he is put to death.
European attidues to execution being an uncivilized answer to a society's criminls are sandwiched between the expectant point of view of Saddam's peers to the east, and the vengeful demand from America. To put someone to death in response to killing thousands does not seem like a just punishment to me - it's too easy. But exile seems even less of a punishment - sending an internationally reknown dictator on holiday doesn't sound like justice to me. I don't think there can be a punishment befitting such a criminal which would be universally accepted in todays 'human rights' centric society.
David Waddington, Deganwy, North Wales, UK
It is almost certain that the trial and sentencing of Saddam Hussein will be inevitably tainted by the same falings as the US-led military campaign in Iraq. Namely, the total failure to obtain a truly international mandate, ipso facto international legitimacy. In addition, a failure to contemplate, far less plan on the effect of any eventual hanging. I fear Saddam is being fitted for martyrdom, with all the evil consequences that entails.
Mark Rowantree, Glasgow, Scotland
There are statues in Westminster to King Richard the Lionheart, Oliver Cromwell, and Abraham Lincoln - all three of whom are just as guilty of committing atrocities as Saddam Hussein.
Quentin Hawkins, Morpeth, UK
Why would it show "weakness" if the new Iraqi government were to commute the death sentence on Saddam to one of life imprisonment. On the contrary it might send a powerful signal to the world that the new government is civilised and progressive. The risk that so long as Saddam lives he remains a rallying point for disaffected Sunnis is worth taking for the bigger prize of moral legitamicy
nigel davies, stockport
What's the alternative - prison or exile at someone's (taxpayers') expense? I don't think so!
Mark, Bexhill on Sea
As a South African I feel that we, the international community, should learn from the calm and peaceful manner in which power changed hands in South Africa. There were crimes against humanity, acts of terrible violence not to mention the apathy of the whites in general. But when Nelson Mandela won the elections in a free (not internatioanlly controlled) election there was no call for blood, no righteous executions and no martyrs. Instead there was communication, revelation and time for healing. I am personnally appalled at Saddam Hussein's crimes, especially the gassing of his own people. However, I think more would be gained buy making accept responsibility for his actions in front of his people and then exiling him so that he might watch as his own people rebuild their country. Just as last week saw the passing of a toothless old crocodile let there be a day in the future when we see the passing of a guilty, shamed old murderer.
Michael Ferreira, Woking
The international community that alternately stood by doing nothing, or supported politically/financially/militarily the Baathist regime has no moral jurisdiction in punishing Sadaam Hussein or his co-defendants. If anything, they too should be in the dock, for their wilful culpability.
Its true to say any such trial will be shadowed in hypocrisy. Such as Stalin not being tried with anything or indeed crimes commited by other allied leaders. In order for any such trial to be considered fair and just all parties who commit crimes must stand trial, but this never happens becuase the victor always tries the loser. In Saddams case it could only be considered just if Bush, Cheeny, Rumsfeld and Blair all stood trial and were executed if the Iraqi people see fit. The fact that are not dictators is irrelevant Hitler was voted in democratically afterall and even after the war the majority of Germans still supported his ideals. The point is your people may have voted for you but the people you invaded and killed didn't.
This is a very interesting perspective (not "story", thanks very much BBC). It is better 'measured' than most other current comments web-wide and deserves being taken seriously.
Steve, Tunbridge Wells
I agree with those who would prefer not to implement a death sentence. Perhaps any alternative is better, including hard labour. On a slightly more different point.
Revd GJHHBM van der Weegen, Stonesfield, Oxon, UK
I am an outspoken opponent of the death penalty, yet I have a great deal of trouble putting forward the claim that the death of Saddam would be wrong. This is not just because of his actions in the past, but on the basis that in the end this should be a matter for the people of Iraq. If they believe the only way to see justice done is to see this man hang - and let us be realistic, there are few people who have better earnt such a horrific end - then perhaps such a sentence should be carried out. To deny them what they feel is justice will do nothing more than cause more unrest, more problems and a longer road to recovery for Iraq as a whole. There justice is not necessarily our justice, and we have little right to tell them that after all the pointless deaths that have occurred in their country, the life of the man who murdered and tortured their families and who kept them living in fear for so long should be one of those spared.
Nicholas Shemmonds, Surrey, England
I think the trouble with keeping people of this ilk in jail, is that no matter how good the security - there will always be ways and means of getting messages to the "outside"... Mafia bosses could still run things, even if they were inside... I think the danger is more so with Saddam and Osama Bin Naughty. And quite frankly, the gallows is a hell of a lot cheaper than paying for his jail-time and all that high-security...
To hang Saddam would be to drive Iraq into an immediate civil war. He is a war criminal yes, so are Bush & Blair, how many civilias & military have they killed in there illegal oil war. Was Churchill put on trial for dropping mustard gas on the Kurds in the 1930s? This whole saga is like opeing up a pomegranite & seeing whats on the inside.
David Perry, weybridge
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