Hanging regretted as ‘degrading’, if not unjust

03 January 2007

by Rachel Harden

On the gallows: an officially released image of Saddam and the hangmen

On the gallows: an officially released image of Saddam and the hangmen

THE EXECUTION of the former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, “cannot be called unjust”, provided he had had a fair trial and a proper opportunity to appeal, the Bishop of Lichfield said this week. A deliberate murderer “immediately forfeited his or her right to life”.

But the death penalty was in general “unsafe”, the Bishop, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, said. “Human justice cannot be absolutely sure. We never know for certain what is going on inside a criminal, and verdicts have to balance probabilities.”

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, regretted the televising of graphic images from the execution, but hoped that they might “raise in the public mind how offensive and morally unacceptable this form of justice is”, The Sunday Times reported. “It is degrading to the people who have to do it, and degrading to the society that requires it.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who guest-edited BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last Friday, said that “The death penalty effectively says there is no room for change or repentance.” But he went on to say that Saddam deserved “sharp and unequivocal” punishment.

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, was reported as saying: “The whole business of humiliating a human being in this way can only lead to increased disrespect and increased violence. The photographs of the execution seem inappropriate.”

A Vatican spokesman, the Revd Frederico Lombardi, called the execution “tragic”, and expressed concern that it would lead to revenge and new violence. He said that capital punishment could not be justified, “even when the person put to death is one guilty of grave crimes”.

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Samuel Kobia, said on Saturday: “Each taking of a person’s life is part of a larger tragedy, and nowhere is this more apparent than in a land of daily killings.”

The Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that the British Government was opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. “We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation.”

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