White House won't condemn Saddam spectacle

Tony Snow says the thing that matters is that the condemned man was a killer.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 4, 2007 2:26PM (EST)

As we noted yesterday, George W. Bush sold the war in Iraq, at least in part, with talk about the "nonnegotiable demands of human dignity." So what does the White House have to say about the rather undignified way in which Saddam Hussein was put to death?


Well, that's not the word that White House spokesmen have been using, but it strikes us as pretty fair shorthand for what they've actually said. Tony Snow was asked at Wednesday's White House press briefing if he had "qualms" about the spectacle surrounding Hussein's hanging. His response:

"I think the most important thing to realize is that Saddam Hussein was executed after a long trial, long and public trial that met international standards, an appeal that met international standards, under American -- he was in American custody for the vast majority of the time. He apparently, according to Gen. Caldwell, thanked the jailers for their treatment of him. He was handed over to the Iraqi government. There were some -- the embassy expressed some concerns; the Iraqis listened to those concerns, they've carried it forward. And I think -- it's interesting because there seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein's life and less about the first 69 in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people. That's why he was executed."

Asked if he could characterize the president's reaction to the sorry scene, Snow said: "No. I think, as we've said -- the comments have already been made -- Gen. Caldwell said that we would have done it differently. The Iraqi government apparently thinks they should have done it differently. Let's see how it goes out. The most important thing to keep an eye on, this is a guy who killed hundreds of thousands of people and received justice."

The Associated Press pressed the question with deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel. "The president is focused on the new way forward in Iraq, so these issues are best addressed out of Iraq, out of Baghdad," Stanzel said. "Prime Minister Maliki's staff have already expressed their disappointment in the filmings, so I guess we'll leave it at that."

Tim Grieve

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

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