Legally, only Iraqi President Jalal Talabani can pardon Saddam. But this would not be the right move because the former Iraqi leader does not deserve mercy. However, his execution may destabilize the situation in the Middle East. Moreover, the Iraqi court is not independent, and its sentence is dubious for this reason as well.
The media have often compared Saddam's case to the Nuremberg Trial of the Nazi war criminals. In both cases the leaders of states committed crimes against humanity, and were tried for them. But there is one important difference. The Nuremberg Trial was conducted by the victors, and was not manipulated by anyone. The judges who have sentenced Saddam to gallows are under pressure from the country that has occupied Iraq.
Whether the occupation was justified is another matter. But it is a fact that the Iraqi court is not independent. This is why its sentence gives rise to doubts, even if formally it is legitimate. The court proceedings were aimed not so much at passing a sentence as to settling accounts. Under the circumstances, any sentence could be called into question, not only a death verdict. The difference is that once a death sentence is executed, it cannot be revised. As for other court decisions, proceedings can be resumed if they seem unfair after a truly democratic regime is established in Iraq, and after American troops leave the country.
It should be borne in mind that in the current uneasy situation in the Middle East, the extremists might exploit this dubious sentence in their own interests. Although many representatives of the Islamic and Arab world regard Saddam as a criminal, the execution of the death sentence may turn him into a martyr for Islam. The extremists may use his execution under foreign occupation as a banner for struggle against the Western Christian civilization. This should not be allowed because Saddam himself is much more likely to prefer to be hanged and become a martyr for Islam than be sentenced to life in prison.
There is one more nuance. Saddam Hussein knows too much. He was charged with crimes on more than a dozen cases but only sentenced to death for the Dujail massacre in 1982. After passing this sentence, the court began proceedings against Saddam for the genocide of Kurds. Other cases have not yet been taken to court. If he is executed, we may never know what had happened during his rule.
There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is a criminal, and he has to pay for his crimes. In other words, all cases have to be examined, and he has to be sentenced to life imprisonment on all cases put together. This will be severe punishment for him, but it will not be a catalyst for exploding the situation in the Middle East.
However, regardless of the sentence, I'd like to emphasize that Saddam's trial has sent a very important message to all heads of state - now they know that they will be responsible for their actions sooner or later. Nobody will get away with the crimes for which Saddam was tried. The heads of state are not immune, and will have to answer for their deeds, no matter where.
A sentence will depend on the circumstances and the committed crimes. As an opponent of capital punishment in general, I do not support this death sentence.
Professor Mikhail Barshchevsky, Ph. D. (Law), the Russian Government's plenipotentiary envoy to the supreme courts of the Russian Federation
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.