Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikritieh is better known as ‘Chemical Ali’, and he will be hanged shortly, having been sentenced to death for a fourth time in Iraq. His crimes are amongst the most sensationally horrible: they include the responsibility for gassing about 5000 Kurdish civilians: the image of the scattered dead in the Kurdish region of Iraq is one of the most appalling I’ve ever seen. He is also responsible for countless other deaths, of erstwhile colleagues, of fellow-countrymen. His guilt is not in question, as such.
Hanginging him will be a ritual of revenge, whether it takes place behind closed doors, or is captured, as was his cousin’s hanging, by mobile camera-phones. It will bring pleasure and a sense of justice done to those relatives of his victims who have cursed him. But once you have subscribed to the drug of revenge, once you have taken pleasure in handing out its bitter pills, then the executions which follow will have a persistent resonance in the world, and the echo will eventually be used as a kind of justification to kill someone who is entirely innocent. The moment of pleasure it affords the watchers will dissipate; it will simply reinforce the idea that it is okay to kill someone.
It isn’t just that there are got-off-scot-free murderers still on the planet. Most governments have illegal blood on their hands, by proxy at best. Nor do I believe in forgiveness as an argument. Forgiveness is a luxury which human beings have not really earned. Nor will my inherent pacifism do any good in the short, medium, or even long term. New Chemical Alis are being nurtured everywhere, every day.
Who manufactured the nerve gas? Who sold the nerve gas? Who first thought of it as a weapon? Who brought about the circumstances which led Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikritieh to have such crazy power?
I just don’t believe in execution. It is the fool’s gold of the political classes. Somewhere, someone will take heart from his execution, and seek to revenge it, in ten, twenty, thirty years. That much is inevitable.