Blaming the messenger

We know who was responsible for Saddam Hussein's execution. Who cares who photographed it?

Published January 3, 2007 5:09PM (EST)

We haven't been able to bring ourselves to watch either the official or the unofficial video recording of Saddam Hussein's execution, so maybe we're missing something here. But are we the only ones who think that all the concern about who captured the hanging on a cellphone camera is just a little bit beside the point?

Iraqi judges sentenced Saddam to death by hanging. For all of their after-the-fact, "we would have done it differently" protestations, Americans handed over Saddam to his executioners. Iraqi government officials planned the execution, chose the executioners and had the ability -- if they chose to use it -- to control access to and behavior in the room where Saddam was killed. We've been frisked for cameras and other unauthorized accessories at a thousand rock concerts. We've seen people tossed from political events for heckling the speakers. Was it too much to expect that the Iraqi government, such as it is, could handle execution security as well as a bunch of rent-a-cops in windbreakers do?

There are two possible problems here, and neither of them has much to do with the identity of the guy with the cellphone camera. Either Iraqi government officials are so completely inept that they couldn't control a single room within their country, or they chose to turn a blind eye to what was happening in it.

As George W. Bush prepared Americans for war four years ago, he talked of the "non-negotiable demands of human dignity." We've long since cashed those in, and all the guy with the cellphone camera did was remind us of how ugly the transaction can be. The photographer documented the sorry spectacle of Saddam's hanging. He did not create it.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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