An illegal hanging

Besides being barbaric, the execution of Saddam Hussein may well be illegal

The Iraqi High Tribunal's rejection of Saddam Hussein's appeal was the kind of judicial exercise that gives rubber stamps a bad name. After the trial chamber handed down its 298-page judgment on 23 November, defence lawyers had less than two weeks to file their challenge - which was then dismissed without even a hearing. No reasons were given. The haste with which Saddam was then hanged inspires little confidence that politics did not infect his execution, much as it infected every other aspect of his trial.

Although the Iraqi judiciary is unlikely to address the issue, there remains great uncertainty over the most fundamental question of all: whether it was lawful to kill Saddam.

It is worth noting that he went to his death pursuant to a process that violated international law in one way, and possibly two. It is arguable, first, that the imposition of the death penalty was itself wrong. Saddam was convicted not of murder, but crimes against humanity - an offence against international law for which Iraqi law stipulates no penalty. The statute establishing the Iraqi High Tribunal states that in such cases the court's choice of punishment should (among other things) be "guided by judicial precedents and relevant sentences issued by the international criminal tribunals".

Given that the death penalty has not been imposed by an international court since the end of the Second World War, it is hard to see that the IHT paid regard to this. Had it done so, it would have been guided by the precedents of the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone - the only three "international criminal tribunals" to have sentenced anyone for crimes against humanity since 1948. None is permitted even to consider capital punishment.

More serious is that Iraqi law purports to rule out any possibility for clemency. The constitution stipulates that the president has the power to ratify capital sentences, but says nothing about when he should exercise it. The only word on this comes from the IHT's foundation statute, which says: "No authority, including the president of the Republic, may grant a pardon or reduce the penalties issued by this tribunal. Penalties shall be enforceable within 30 days of the sentence or decision reaching finality."

This provision directly violates Article 6(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that "anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases." Iraq ratified the treaty in 1971, and although the Ba'athist government ignored its obligations at least as often as it happened to follow them, the present regime supposedly has a less cavalier attitude towards international norms. In any event, it remains bound as a matter of international law to ensure that Article 6(4) is observed. Not only did it fail to do so, it chose to execute Saddam at the start of Eid, a festival associated with mercy, when criminals are customarily released across the Muslim world.

The eagerness to hang Saddam triumphed over the niceties of legalism, as it had throughout the trial. Arguments over the deficiencies of Iraq's sentencing laws and commutation procedures are presumably about to become equally redundant for his erstwhile co-defendants. But in case anyone outside the White House believes that snapping Saddam's neck at dawn represented a milestone on Iraq's march towards normality, Baghdad's departure from international practice should be recorded. From a legal point of view, Iraq has just taken another step away from the family of nations that it was once supposed to have rejoined.

Read more on Saddam's hanging
A flawed process Chris Stephen
Iraq has blown it's chance to prove that it has embraced the rule of law.
Dubbya in denial Andrew Stephen
As events in Iraq turn to the worse, George Bush seems ready to do anything to secure his legacy.

Sadakat Kadri is a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and a writer. His most recent book is The Trial: A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson, and he is a past winner of the Spectator/Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing.
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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times