Europeans Oppose Death Sentence for Saddam

Government officials from several European countries have spoken out against a death sentence for Saddam Hussein after U.S. President George W. Bush called for the "ultimate punishment" for Iraq's former dictator.

photo: AP
They got him and are now calling for the "ultimate punishment."

​​Across party lines, German politicians criticized Bush’s indirect request for a death sentence for Saddam Hussein. After meeting with members of Iraq’s interim governing council in Berlin on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (Greens) said the German government opposed the death penalty in principle.

Calling Bush’s remarks “fundamentalist,” Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the neo-liberal Free Democrats, said Hussein’s sentence should be decided in a courtroom, a view shared by the Christian Democrats’ foreign policy expert, Ruprecht Polenz. “I don’t think it’s a smart idea to anticipate the outcome of a trial,” he said.

A common EU position?

In Spain, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio went even further and called for a common EU position against a death sentence for Hussein.

“Europe cannot be directly involved in the decision in this case, but we should not turn away from our principles,” Palacio told El Mundo newspaper. “Even criminals of the worst kind should not be sentenced to death.”

Italy’s Defense Minister Antonio Martino, who said his country was thinking about becoming a co-plaintiff in a Hussein trial after 19 Italian soldiers were killed in a bomb attack in Iraq in early November, also said the proceedings should not turn into an act of revenge.

While also opposing the death penalty, Bush’s closest European ally said he would have to accept Hussein’s execution if decided in a court of law. "Were that to be the outcome, that would be something we'd have to accept," a spokesman for British Premier Tony Blair said.

Governing Council member backs Bush

During a Thursday visit to Berlin, Iraqi Governing Council president Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim (photo) said Hussein would receive a “fair, open and transparent” trial in his country.

But Ahmed Chalabi, a prominent figure on the council, said Iraq’s former dictator should be sentenced to death as soon as possible.

The governing council plans to try Hussein before a special war crimes tribunal that was set up last week. This is likely to happen as Bush has said that it was up to the Iraqis to decide on the captive’s fate.

Hussein deserved the highest punishment under Iraqi law for his “horrible crimes during the past 30 years,” Chalabi said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Death sentence likely outcome?

While the U.S. administration in Iraq has instituted a moratorium on death sentences in the country, observers said Hussein’s death would be the probable outcome of a trial in Iraq. “I’m afraid he’ll be executed,” Tono Eitel, a German professor of international law and a former UN ambassador to Iraq, told DeutschlandRadio Berlin. He added that the proceedings would turn into a “pure show trial.”

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