Reactions mixed in Columbia to execution

Sunday, December 31, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:32 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Experts and laypeople in Columbia took little satisfaction in the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and some predicted it would have little impact on the state of affairs in his war-torn country.

Herbert Tillema, an MU political science professor and expert on international politics, noted that although the Bush administration will view the death of Saddam as an advancement of its objectives in the Middle East, it could bring both short- and long-term repercussions.

First, Tillema said, the execution could fuel “various things that are labeled as terrorism” and reinforce “anti-Americanism” sentiment in Iraq and its neighboring countries.

The long-term concern, he said, is that toppling and killing the leader of another state will “set a very disturbing precedent in international politics, and one which the international community as a whole has worked to try to restrict and prevent since 1648,” when many academics believe the Treaties of Westphalia spawned the modern international legal system.

William Fisch, a professor emeritus of international law at MU, lamented the fact that Hussein was executed before he was tried for other crimes.

“In some sense it may be unfair to the victims of those other atrocities,” Fisch said, “but there may well be reasons for deciding not to pursue those trials. ... I can’t imagine making that decision without taking into account political considerations.”

Fisch said the execution might also bring more attention to international laws intended to protect human rights.

“The trial and execution could reinforce some important international legal principles,” he said.

At the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, where Muslims gathered for prayer on Saturday night as the holiday Eid al-Adha approached, MU engineering professor Sherif El-Gizawy, a native of Egypt, said the execution was no surprise. Still, he expressed some regrets about the trial and the timing of Saddam’s death.

“They didn’t even allow for the second checking or the appeal court to look at the case again,” El-Gizawy said. “I think many people will question the fairness of the trial,” he said, “Nobody doubts about his guilt, and he killed many people in his era. (But there is) some shadow on the fairness of the trial.”

Elsewhere around Columbia, feelings were mixed. Nancy Chaol, 24, who was volunteering at the Peace Nook on Saturday afternoon, said that although Saddam’s punishment was justified, she felt it would do little good in the long run.

“Some people will be happy but only temporarily, because they want revenge,” Chaol said. “They think that’s what they really want, but they’ll find out later that it’s not satisfying.”

Karen Shortt, a 22-year-old manager at Clover’s Natural Foods, said she believes the execution will bring closure for a lot of people.

“Personally, I don’t believe in the death penalty,” Shortt said, “but it’s not like he was a saint or anything. He was a tyrant and a war criminal.”

Jack Hathman, owner of Dracosinister Blades on East Walnut Street, said “it’s impossible to say that Saddam didn’t have it coming.” Still, he worried that the decision to execute Saddam so close to the start of Eid might inflame tensions in Iraq.

“That’s probably not the best timing because they might manage to make the sectarian problems worse,” he said while reading a fantasy book outside his store. “I hope it doesn’t lead to more fighting with our troops in the middle.”

Linsey Cowans, a 24-year-old telemarketer who was shopping at Sami’s Beauty Supply, said she was “happy” that Saddam was put to death.

“All this terrorism doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

“This sends a warning to anyone trying to follow in his footsteps.”

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