Don’t get me wrong. I’m cheering, like many Iraqis, that Saddam’s two sons are dead. But it’s a muted cheer.
Here’s what bugs me. If you listen to President George W. Bush or British Prime Minister Tony Blair, we’re in Iraq to create a stable, flourishing democracy — and we can do that best, not by the force of weapons alone, but by demonstrating the worth of our principles. Surely, these principles include the right to live one’s life without fear of arbitrary execution and the right to a trial. If Iraqis can find any hope in Saddam’s fall and the American occupation, it’s that they will no longer be subjected to state actions that violate the most basic principles of international law and human civility.
And here’s my point. Like it or not, the facts strongly suggest that the killings violated international law — in fact, to the extent that they were undertaken by an occupying power, they may amount to war crimes. That is precisely why many Iraqis are disturbed, even angered, by the manner in which the killings took place. For example, an Iraqi man told a television interviewer that he was very glad to see Saddam’s sons dead, but he was disquieted by the way they were killed: “This shows that the principles [the Americans] talk about are just so much ink on paper.”
I think the idea that the right wingers respect any kind of law, anywhere, is missing the forest.