Saddam Hussein and the Death Penalty

"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. "

Matthew 5:21-22

On December 30, 2006, the former leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging for crimes he committed against his own people as ruler of Iraq.  The news media is presenting the position of the Iraqi people as one of joy and celebration at the execution of Hussein.

I do not doubt that many of the Iraqi people and people across the world are rejoicing at Hussein's execution.  For me, it is a sad day when people rejoice at the death of anyone.  In his statement released after the execution, President Bush stated, “Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq,” Bush continued, “but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain, and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror"  ( -  Many people are saying the execution of Saddam Hussein enables the Iraqi people to move into a new era in their history.

I agree that Saddam Hussein was a terrible person in many ways and that he deserved to be punished.  It would seem that it would be appropriate to execute a convicted murderer, especially one who convicted so many people.  Many people use the Bible to justify such a position.  They cite the well-known "eye for an eye" and a "tooth for a tooth" passages from Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19-21.  Leviticus 24:21 specifically refers to death as a punishment.  It is good to see people using the Bible in moral choices but they need to look at the New Testament and passages such as Matthew 5:38-42, which teach us retaliation is not good.  If we are to condemn a murderer as a criminal for not respecting life, don't we need to respect life in our own actions?  We have no right to ask others to respect life as precious if we are not first willing to do so.

Saddam was executed at the time of the Islamic holy feast of Eid Ul-Adha.  It is a feast remembering God's call to Abraham to sacrifice his son but in the end God provides a lamb for the sacrifice.  This celebration also marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage.

Ironically, from what I heard in the news reports around the time of his execution, one of the major themes of Eid Ul-Adha is reconciliation.  For some, Saddam's death is an occasion on which the Iraqi people can "reconcile" and move forward from the injustice they suffered under Hussein.  They use an argument common for those who support the death penalty, claiming the execution brings closure for those who suffered under Saddam Hussein.  Is it really closure?

The death penalty is unacceptable to me.  The supporters of the death penalty attempt to argue that the death penalty is a deterrent to future crimes but statistics are inconclusive on this.  I understand those who argue "an eye for an eye" and a "tooth for a tooth" but I think in practice people seek it more as revenge than seeking justice and appropriate punishment.

I believe Saddam Hussein deserved to be punished for the crimes he committed.  Saddam Hussein refused to respect life when he had hundreds of people killed or tortured.  How we claim to act on behalf of life in executing him?  We are saying his life is not important.  To me, the appropriate punishment is life without parole and to hope that one day Saddam Hussein would repent for his sins.

Catholic Teaching is generally against the death penalty except, as stated in paragraph 405 of the Social Compendium of the Catholic Church, "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude the death penalty “when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor" as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2267.  For me, it would seem that the only that may justify this is when faced with a prisoner that cannot be held securely.  In the United States of America this would be highly unlikely but some third world countries may not have the means to safely hold violent criminals.  I do not believe this is the case with Hussein.  It is possible to keep him in prison.