Among the most revolting aspects of the hanging of Saddam Hussein on 30 December were his final words, apparently spoken just before his last prayer. He rebuked the grotesque taunting and bungling that surrounded him by asking, "Is this how real men behave?"
If there is one person more than any other responsible for the humiliating cruelty and abasement of life that has Iraq in its grip, it is Saddam - who had men filmed being whipped to naked on the floor, to show his countrymen who was boss.
One of the Shi'a Muslim guards at his execution is said to have shouted, "You have destroyed us." Alas, Saddam's own behaviour demonstrated the truth of this. So too, on the other side of Iraq's sectarian divide, did the behaviour of those Sunnis who grieved for him as a victim and martyr.
The former Iraqi leader had not even been properly tried for the 1988 gassing of Kurds in Halabja during the genocidal Anfal campaign (perhaps because that would have exposed evidence of United States support for him at the time). Instead, the precedent created by al-Qaida, of barbaric video executions - condemned everywhere as an abuse of human rights - has been pursued by official power.
If one searches for a silver lining, there might be one. Finally, something has reduced British prime minister Tony Blair to silence.
His deputy, John Prescott - usually mocked for his failure to find the right phrase - rose to the occasion: "I think the manner was quite deplorable … to get that kind of recorded message coming out is totally unacceptable, and I think whoever is involved and responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves."
According to the report in ePolitix, Downing Street "insisted Prescott's remarks were 'personal' comments which did not represent the government's view". More is the pity.
But this poses a question for those of us living in the countries which make up the coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew Saddam and his regime of terror. American officials are now seeking to blame the Iraqi government for the public-relations disaster of the hanging, as if their hands are clean. And, until now, Blair has retained an uncanny ability to find words which make it appear he has the moral high-ground while he clings to the lower parts of US president George W Bush.
This time, ensconced in a vacation palace in Florida, neatly symbolic of his parasitical relationship towards American power and wealth, Blair hid behind his holiday status and kept shtum.
The British prime minister, like the American president, is in denial. The recent Dannatt affair provided the most striking evidence of this. The new head of the British army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, told the Daily Mail on 13 October 2006 that Britain should "get ourselves out sometime soon … whatever consent we may have had in the first place … has largely turned to intolerance. ... I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."
Technically, for any serving general, let alone the head of the armed forces, to directly contradict government analysis and policy is treason. Dannatt should have been fired on the spot. But his views are immensely popular (not least in the army) and, more to the point, accurate.
Advised that a military chief of general staff can't be in public disagreement with his prime minister, what was Blair to do? He declared that he and Dannatt were in agreement! "I've read his transcript of his interview on the radio this morning, and I agree with every word of it."
Blair was referring to a subsequent Dannatt interview with the BBC's Today programme. He added, however, that he suspected Dannatt had given a long interview to the Daily Mail and that his words had then been taken out of context. (However, Dannatt was later quoted as saying of his newspaper interview, "I have withdrawn none of the comments that I have made.")
The main reaction across the British news media at the time was to applaud the brilliance of Blair for a virtuoso performance that extracted him from an apparently impossible situation. Britain has a virtual prime minister, but only because it has a virtual press equally in love with performance.
Part of the pain that we in the Anglo-Saxon west feel at the scenes of Saddam's execution is that they bring us face-to-face with our own responsibility for still having such political leaders in office who created the circumstances of the hanging - however much they deny it or pretend it didn't happen.
Indeed, we can now see that all three - Bush, Blair and Saddam - share a common characteristic, one that shames those they have ruled. Each became a fool in office thanks to an obsession with power so great that it detached him from reality. How can these people have been our rulers?
This is not to say that there is a moral equivalence between the three; rather, Bush and Blair have been partly contaminated by the far greater wickedness of Saddam. Tony Curzon Price has drawn upon the reflections of Dostoevsky to place the YouTube videos of Saddam's execution in a historical context. YouTube may deserve the compliment but, by association, it concedes a moral quality to Saddam that he entirely lacks.
When Saddam was captured three years ago, I argued that the world could finally see his hollowness for itself as we looked Inside Saddam's Mouth. I repeat my conclusion:
"The death penalty is wrong in principle.
There are exceptions to all principles. In this case, however, what is exceptional is the need to keep Hussein alive.
He killed everyone he could who showed a spark of life or integrity. If they were innocent, they died. If they resisted, they were tortured. When in a cabinet meeting a minister made the modest suggestion that at some point the president might step down, the president asked him into the next room, shot him, and then went back to continue the meeting.
To argue, as George Bush did, that because Saddam killed so many, he too deserves to die, is to elevate him to the status of those he condemned.
But he has none of their value.
Saddam Hussein does not deserve anything that might hint of martyrdom.
To kill him is to suggest that there is a spark of a life-force however modest that remains a threat and needs to be eradicated, residing in his breast.
There isn't. It is empty.
He should be kept in the empty cell which is all he deserves."
Tragically, in the classic sense of an all-too-predictable disaster, the man who brought inhumanity to a new pinnacle has been given the gloss of humanity by the manner of his killing.
We should not allow this to undo the realities of his crimes. We have every right, despite the flawed process of his trial and sentence, to turn his last question back on himself, on everything Saddam has done, and ask: is this how humans behave? Only now, in addition, this question also needs to be levelled at the two western leaders who brought him to the gallows.
Coming from OPEN DEMOCRACY