Saddam to Hang World Divided Over Saddam Sentence

The conviction of Saddam Hussein is dividing the world. The United States, Britain and the Iraqi government praised the verdict but the European Union said it fundamentally opposes the death penalty and Amnesty International said the whole trial was flawed.


Disagreement about the death penalty has led to a divided world reaction to Sunday's conviction of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, sentenced by a US-backed court to hang for crimes against humanity.

US President George W. Bush hailed it as a "milestone in the Iraqi people's effort to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law. It is a major achievement for Iraq's young democracy and its constitutional government," said Bush, facing congressional elections on Tuesday which Democrats have tried turn into a referendum on his handling of the Iraq war.

An automatic appeal means no execution is likely until next year at the earliest. The judge told the 69-year-old former president he should be "hanged until dead" for killing, torturing and jailing hundreds of Shiites from the town of Dujail.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki described the death sentence as "not a sentence on one man, but a sentence against all the dark period of his rule." He said: "Maybe this will help alleviate the pain of the widows and the orphans, and those who have been ordered to bury their loved ones in secrecy, and those who have been forced to suppress their feelings and suffering."

Britain too hailed the verdict. "Appalling crimes were committed by Saddam Hussein's regime," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said. "It's right that those accused of such crimes against the Iraqi people should face Iraqi justice."

But Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said the sentence shouldn't be carried out. "The EU opposes capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances, and it should not be carried out in this case either." It added that the EU had repeatedly condemned "the systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law committed by the regime of Saddam Hussein".

Three US soldiers were killed and Baghdad was under curfew for a second day on Monday as the Iraqi government braced for any insurgent backlash against the court ruling. Curfews in Baghdad and other appeared to succeed in keeping down violence on Sunday.

Several European leaders spoke out against the death sentence. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said: "The condemnation reflects the judgment of the entire international community. But however ferocious a crime may be, our traditions and our ethics distance us from the concept of a death penalty.'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed out that the EU opposes the death sentence. "But it's right and important that the courts deal with Saddam Hussein's deeds."

Meanwhile, human rights organisation Amnesty International said it "deplored'' the sentence, and condemned the trial as a "shabby affair, marred by serious flaws'' which had not met basic international standards.

In the United States, opposition Democrats took aim at Bush's policy on Iraq. Former Democratic Senator Max Cleland of Georgia said the death sentence would make no difference and predicted more violence.

"Well, you can hang Saddam Hussein from the rooftops, but it's not changing the situation on the ground, except to make 2 million Sunnis more mad against Americans and against Shiites," Cleland told CNN's "Late Edition."

cro/Reuters/AP/dpa

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