Darn! I hate it when I need to lay my hands on a particular book but can’t find it… Today, it was the account Rebecca West gave in A Train of Powder of the hanging of the ten men sentenced to death at Nuremberg.
Goering, who also received a death sentence, “cheated” the hangman by swallowing a cyanide pill the night before.
West’s book has a detailed description of the process of the ten hangings that did happen. She prefaces that with an account of how, over earlier decades, the British had “perfected” the technique. The drop through the trapdoor should be long enough for the neck to snap once the end of the rope is reached. Also, the rope shouldn’t be too elastic/springy, or the jolt on the neck might not be sharp enough to break it. (Sorry for these grisly details. Read no further if you find this hard to take.)
However, at Nuremberg, the American GI’s who constructed the gallows did not have enough of the relevant expertise– being more used to electric chairs and the like, where they came from… So as West reported it, the hanged men at Nuremberg took some 20 minutes to die, dangling at the end of their ropes and suffering a slow and presumably painful asphyxiation.
She left unresolved, as I recall it, the question of whether the people who designed that faulty process had done so intentionally, or not.
I wanted to put some excerpts from her account into this post, just to show (through the contrast) that, by all accounts, the hangmen in Baghdad at least did a more “professional”– and therefore, if one can say this, “humane”– job than those in Nuremberg.
I did look at most of the YouTube posting of a video of Saddam’s hanging that was apparently shot by one of the observers there, through a cellphone or some other similarly small device. As video, it was highly imperfect as people kept getting in the way, the camera was swinging around, etc. But the audio on it was remarkably sharp.
I think Marc Santora’s account of the hanging in today’s NYT is largely based on having his Iraqi colleagues– two are named at the bottom– give him a translation of the voices that can be heard on the video. On the video you certainly can hear one or more men shouting “Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada!”
Saddam’s comportment as he reached his last minutes seemed considerably more dignified than that of some of the invited observers.
- He said a last prayer. Then, with his eyes wide open, no stutter or choke in his throat, he said his final words cursing the Americans and the Persians.
At 6:10 a.m., the trapdoor swung open. He seemed to fall a good distance, but he died swiftly. After just a minute, his body was still. His eyes still were open but he was dead. Despite the scarf, the rope cut a gash into his neck.
His body stayed hanging for another nine minutes as those in attendance broke out in prayer, praising the Prophet, at the death of a dictator.
On the YouTube video, you can briefly see the hanged body before they cut it down.
After it was taken down it was wrapped in a shroud and driven to his birth-town, Ouja (Auja), where it was buried around 24 hours later. AP’s Steven Hurst wrote today,
- Hundreds of Iraqis flocked to the village where Saddam Hussein was born on Sunday to see the deposed leader buried in a religious compound 24 hours after his execution…
At Saddam’s funeral, dozens of relatives and others, some of them crying and moaning, attended the interment shortly before dawn in Ouja. A few knelt before his flag-draped grave. A large framed photograph of Saddam was propped up on a chair nearby.
“I condemn the way he was executed and I consider it a crime,” said 45-year-old Salam Hassan al-Nasseri, one of Saddam’s clansmen who attended the interment in the village just outside Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. Some 2,000 Iraqis traveled to the village as well.
Mohammed Natiq, a 24-year-old college student, said “the path of Arab nationalism must inevitably be paved with blood.”
“God has decided that Saddam Hussein should have such an end, but his march and the course which he followed will not end,” Natiq said…
The head of Saddam’s Albu-Nassir’s clan said the body showed no signs of mistreatment.
“We received the body of Saddam Hussein without any complications. There was cooperation by the prime minister and his office’s director,” the clan chief, Sheik al-Nidaa, told state-run Al-Iraqiya television. “We opened the coffin of Saddam. He was cleaned and wrapped according to Islamic teachings. We didn’t see any unnatural signs on his body.”
Hurst also wrote,
- In Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City on Saturday, victims of his three decades of autocratic rule took to the streets to celebrate, dancing, beating drums and hanging Saddam in effigy. Celebratory gunfire erupted across other Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and other predominantly Shiite regions of the country.
The NYT this morning had a huge, front-page picture of “an Iraqi family in Basra” watching a video feed of Saddam being led to the gallows on their large television. Front and center is a very cute-looking girl-child of three or four years old who is smiling and laughing as she appears to point to the picture.
This “eye for an eye” business will surely go on for generations to come unless some Iraqis, somewhere, intervene in a very serious way to stop it.
Looking at that picture made me remember my visit to Rwanda in 2002. There, too, a large proportion of the population was still nursing extremely bitter memories of many decades of strife, victimization, and counter-victimization… But the most notable thing I saw when I was there was the work of several religious communities– primarily Protestant Evangelicals of various denominations (including, yes, evangelical Quakers), but also Muslims– that were intentionally and with great success building up large congregations of people who were survivors of the 1994 genocide who were worshiping and working alongside people whose family members were accused of participation in the genocide… Hutus and Tutsis worshiping and working together there, and thereby starting to find a way out of the cycles of violence that had plagued the country since the 1950s.
Can Iraqis find some analogous way to transcend and escape from the cycles of violence into which the past quarter century of developments– including but not limited to my own government’s brutal; and divisive interventions– have plunged their country? I hope and pray so.
Maybe the fact that Saddam Hussein is now, definitively, “yesterday’s news” can help that to happen?
… Meanwhile, I see from Hurst’s AP story that the US death toll in Iraq is just about to top 3,000.