It’s good to be bad at killing people

Considering the speed and efficiency with which Saddam Hussein dispatched his fellow citizens, often in wholesale numbers, perhaps it speaks well of the new Iraqi government that it clearly showed amateur status in its first attempts at executions.

But the clumsiness and carelessness of the hangings of Saddam and two of his top lieutenants reflect no credit on that government and little credit on us. The White House gently denounced the lack of dignity in carrying out the death sentences.

Shiite spectators jeered Saddam as he went to the gallows, and cell-phone video of his death quickly appeared on the Internet. But the proceedings really turned gruesome with the hanging of Barzan Ibrahim. The executioners miscalculated, and the force of the drop and the noose combined to rip his head off. There is an official video of this inadvertent beheading and, mercifully, it has not appeared on the Internet, at least not yet.

While we may decry the manner of his death, let us consider Ibrahim the man: Saddam’s half brother and one-time chief of the secret police, chief torturer, bag man, sanctions buster and, for a while, rumored successor.

Ibrahim was convicted of the same crime as Saddam, the indiscriminate slaughter of 148 Shiites in Dujail following an assassination attempt on the dictator that may or may not have been connected to the town.

Ibrahim, according to testimony, walked around the town in a cowboy hat, red cowboy boots and jeans with a sniper rifle, picking off any citizens unlucky enough to cross his sights. The survivors were hauled off to a prison run by Ibrahim, where many of the women were raped in front of their husbands. Ibrahim beat a woman hanging naked and upside down from the ceiling until her ribs broke. Sometimes he just watched the torture while eating grapes. He was said to have run the remains of his victims through a meat grinder.

That his execution was botched is unfortunate; that he had it coming, unquestionable. Let us hope that the new government never has the occasion to become good at this sort of thing.