Repentance & Reconciliation

A really surprising story caught my eye earlier this week after the death of PW Botha – former President of Apartheid* South Africa.

[* Pronounced, aptly, “apart-hate” – as by now you know I’m on a mission to point out]

It seems President Mbeki – in a magnanimous step – offered to give the late PW a state funeral. This of course is a huge – no, a ‘gigantic’ – gesture of national reconciliation. In my opinion, a step too far and largely unneccessary. Like many other South Africans, I’d rather dance on Botha’s grave, personally. In contrast, Mbeki – though his offer was not taken up – attended the funeral. But Mbeki made the offer and he has a million-fold more reason to hate PW than I do, so I shall say no more.

But this example can’t help but make one think of Saddam Hussein.

Peter Tatchell – who has been rather locaquious in the blogshphere this week has some ideas for those of us who oppose the death penalty (for whatever reason).

In his Comment is Free post he suggests:

I can understand why many Iraqis believe Saddam should pay with his life for the hundreds of thousands of lives he snuffed out with a casual click of his fingers. But I still believe judicial murder is a step too far.

I have another idea: Instead of hanging Saddam, sentence him to life imprisonment in a secure prison outside of Iraq, under the supervision of the international criminal court. Perhaps in The Hague?

Removing Saddam from the country of his crimes would help allay some of the distress felt by the families of his victims. It would also dash the dreams (and plans) of his die-hard supporters to spring him from prison and restore him to power.

Given his monstrous crimes and lack of remorse, Saddam should be subjected to a special prison regime. The former dictator should be placed in a cell with all the walls, and the entire floor and ceiling, covered with large photos of the massacres he ordered and the faces of the victims. Every day, all day, he would be forced to confront the reality of his crimes.

From 8am to 8pm daily, taped testimony from the people he tortured should be played into his cell. He would be compelled to hear in detail the terrible suffering he inflicted on others. For a month, twice a year, Saddam should be put on minimum food rations, so that he knows the pain of the hunger he inflicted on the Marsh Arabs when he destroyed their environment and livelihoods.

To subvert his arrogance and egoism, Saddam should be forced to wear a shocking pink prison jumpsuit emblazoned back and front with the words: “I am a murderer. I am a torturer. I am guilty of genocide.”

Everything in his cell should be shocking pink – his blankets, sheets, socks, shoes, towels, plates, cutlery, the wash basin and toilet – even his underpants. Apparently, shocking pink has the psychological effect of calming prisoners, curbing their violent and anti-social instincts, and making them more likely to reform.

The ultimate aim of this suggested special prison regime is redemption, not punishment or humiliation. Give Saddam an incentive to change: his special prison regime should be cancelled and he should be rewarded with normal prison rights if he makes a video confession of his crimes against humanity, offers a public apology, condemns the civil war and sectarian violence, and expresses his support for democratic elections and human rights.

Fat chance Tatchell, I hear you say. But after a couple of years of this special prison regime even a hard-man like Saddam might start having self-doubts. Worth a try, I think. Saddam is better alive and repentant than dead and without remorse.

On the same subject, I’ve noticed quite a few suggestions from the usual suspects that the UK and US leaders should be standing trial with Saddam because – as the meme goes – “we armed him”.

But a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (available via Wikipedia) clearly shows the falacy of this notion.

From 1973 (when Saddam was still only chief henchman for President Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr) right up to the first Gulf War, over 80% of Iraqs arms were sold to them by the Soviet bloc and China. In contrast, the US supplied only half a percent (0.5%) and the UK’s contributions were so much less than that that they don’t warrant a separate column. The only other significant contributor to Saddam’s arsenal (other than Egypt’s 5%) was France – at around 12.5%.

So there you have it – more than 8 out of every 10 bullets, grenades, rockets, tanks, warplanes and so on that Saddam used to unleash hell on his neighbours, political opponents and minority ethnic groups were sourced from the Soviets and China – NOT the west.

Anyway, let me not distract you from commenting on Saddam’s pink underpants