The final moments of Saddam Hussein found their way to the pages of Newsweek, as a Michael Hastings interview with witness Ali al-Massedy hit the Internet within hours of the event. For all of the breathless coverage of yesterday, the Hastings article feels like an anti-climax:
Ali Al Massedy was 3 feet away from Saddam Hussein when he died. The 38 year old, normally Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s official videographer, was the man responsible for filming the late dictator’s execution at dawn on Saturday. “I saw fear, he was afraid,” Ali told NEWSWEEK minutes after returning from the execution. Wearing a rumpled green suit and holding a Sony HDTV video camera in his right hand, Ali recalled the dictator’s last moments. “He was saying things about injustice, about resistance, about how these guys are terrorists,” he says. On the way to the gallows, according to Ali, “Saddam said, ‘Iraq without me is nothing.’”
Ali says he followed Saddam up the gallows steps, escorted by two guards. He stood over the hole and filmed from close quarters as Saddam dropped through—from “me to you,” he said, crouching down to show how he shot the scene. The distance, he said, was “about one meter,” he said. “He died absolutely, he died instantly.” Ali said Saddam’s body twitched, “shaking, very shaking,” but “no blood,” he said, and “no spit.” (Ali said he was not authorized to disclose the location, and did not give other details of the room.)
Ali said the videotape lasts about 15 minutes. When NEWSWEEK asked to see a copy, Ali said he had already handed the tape over to Maliki’s chief of staff. “It is top secret,” he said.
The quote from Saddam should find its way into the history books along Louis XIV’s L’etat, c’est moi (see update). He died as so many megalomaniacal dictators do — believing themselves to be the center of the universe and somewhat nonplussed at the notion that the world will spin without them. He attempted to manipulate events until the last moment, as was to be expected.
Many have taken the occasion to celebrate Hussein’s death, but I’m not going to shout huzzahs. I believe the world to be a better place without him, and I think his death was necessary to keep uprisings from focusing on his restoration to power. Even a few Westerners had floated the notion as an answer to the sectarian violence, apparently believing that Saddam’s proven willingness to kill everyone would bring a grim equality to Iraq. Still, all this does is put an end to a great evil of our time, which deserves recognition but not a party atmosphere. Andy McCarthy says it best:
This wasn’t victory. It didn’t end suffering. It was, in the heat of a war that has actually gotten more vicious and more uncertain since Saddam’s capture three years ago, the carrying out of an essential but unpleasant duty. It marginally enhances Iraq’s propects, and ours. But Saddam’s death (as opposed to his deposing) has no impact whatsoever on the deep dysfunction and hatred that is rending what passes for Iraqi society. The unbridled display of dancing and shooting says more about that than the death of one man — monstrous though he was — who has been imprisoned for three years.
Saddam’s death is a marker worth observing. It is not something to go up in a balloon over.
It did, however, confirm once again the vacuousness of our media. The FM and I have taken the weekend to get away and relax, and she and I watched the coverage on CNN and MS-NBC. The latter was marginally better than the former, where their pre-execution coverage came close to insisting that Saddam was being martyred for the American government. On MS-NBC, we only had to put up with the bubbleheaded anchor seriously floating the notion that the man who had been held for three years and whose identity had been confirmed through DNA analysis and numerous witnesses was really a body double who was going to die in Saddam’s place.
The dictator has met his end, at the hands of the people he tormented for decades. He received more justice in a single day of his trial than he ever gave anyone during his reign of terror. Yet the American media covered that trial as if it were the Saddam show, rather than provide coverage of the many witnesses to his genocides and crimes against humanity. This was the most consequential and historic trial of a mass murderer since Nuremberg, and the only points of interest to the American media were the self-serving disruptions of the defendants — and they questioned the fairness of the trial because the monsters tried turning the trial into a circus.
It wasn’t just the execution coverage that was a joke; it was the entire coverage of Saddam Hussein, going back to Eason Jordan’s deal with the devil that kept their Baghdad bureau open. The last 24 hours just confirms their soullessness. (via Memeorandum)
UPDATE: L’etat, c’est moi is associated with Louis XIV and not Napoleon, according to Wikipedia, which also calls it inaccurate. Thanks to Mark1971 in the comments.