Saturday, April 16, 2005

Saddam gets interviewed, but Dan Rather doesn't get the scoop this time

One of the wonderful things about blogs is that they make it possible to read news that would otherwise be missed. The Iraqi bloggers continue to offer their unique perspective, and Big Pharaoh in Egypt manages to bring still another slant to things. Without him, who outside of the Middle East would know about this, a purported interview with Saddam Hussein in his prison cell?

It's a radio interview, so I suppose it's possible it's not authentic. But it sure sounds like him--arrogant (although Big Pharaoh, oddly enough, says Saddam was "humble" while answering the questions--perhaps it was just the fact that he was answering questions at all, or that the interviewer was allowed to address him using the familiar form of "you"?)

Turns out the guy was framed. Naturally; aren't they always? And turns out he thinks it's Bush who should actually go on trial (no doubt some here would agree with him). Here's part of the interview:

Al Fayhaa: We are not talking about occupation here but about the crimes that were committed by you against the Iraqi people. The mass graves, the killings.

Saddam: These are all fabrications. There isn't a single evidence to prove that I killed anyone or pulled the trigger on anyone. These are all lies.

Al Fayhaa: There are tons of papers with your signature on them. They all prove that arrests and murders were committed after your command.

Saddam: Anyone can forge signatures. I never touched an Iraqi citizen with harm.


The interview made me think of Arendt's controversial phrase "the banality of evil." Ever since she wrote it, people have been arguing about just what she meant, and I have no doubt I won't be settling that question here. But one of the things I think she may have meant is "the seeming banality of evildoers when they are finally captured and under the control of others."

Saddam the dictator, able to control the lives of so many, with the ability to torture and murder at will (or to order others to do it for him)--encountering that man in the full flush and exercise of his power was to encounter a person who emanated evil. I saw a TV biography of Saddam once, and it included one of the most memorable sequences I've ever seen, perhaps the most chilling demonstration of pure evil ever captured on documentary film. If you've seen it, I doubt you could ever forget it.

Not long after obtaining power, Saddam had called a large assembly of his underlings together, men who were officials of various types in the government. In front of the assembled crowd, he called out the names of those he felt had betrayed him in one way or other, and his goons took them out to be summarily executed. He had the entire thing filmed, much as Hitler had filmed the slow executions of those who had tried to assassinate him.

The look on each man's face as he heard his name called and realized what was going on, the nervous and frantic applause others in the audience started in hopes of placating Saddam and avoiding being chosen (like dogs going belly-up at the approach of an aggressive top dog), the gleam of pleasure in his eye as he relished the spectacle--no, nothing banal there. Totally horrifying; something out of the Roman Coliseum, something epic and truly barbaric.

But Saddam in power was one thing; Saddam in jail, quite another. The latter seems banal, but that's because his power has been taken away, and he is made to move to the rhythms and desires of others. Those with power over him now tell him when to eat, when to bathe, when to talk, when to be silent. Now, he has to listen to a radio interviewer address him by the familiar "inta," now, listeners call in to the talk show and give opinions on what should be done with him.

And still he gives off that air of unbridled arrogance, along with claims that should be familiar to anyone who has read transcripts from Nuremberg or other war crimes trials. He never killed anyone himself, he says. He should be allowed to go into exile (well, after all, didn't Idi Amin? In Saudi Arabia, by the way.)

I think it's not merely face-saving bravado; I think his ego is such that he believes it actually will happen. He spent most of his life giving orders to others, and getting away (literally) with murder. Why shouldn't he think he can somehow continue to do so? Paradoxically, his arrogance is the best evidence of all that he's been treated awfully well while in captivity.

UPDATE: Reader Steve S. (see comments) informs me that Big Pharaoh has just updated his post to say that the interview was a simulation, not Saddam himself.

6 Comments:

At 12:44 PM, April 16, 2005, Blogger troutsky said...

The "banality" that Arendt tried to describe had to do with the fact that Eichmann,along with other "evildoers" was described as a great family man, a loving father, husband ,a funny companion etc.. in other words the dislocation of "good and evil".He could go to "work" and do horrible things and come home to tuck his children in bed.

This from an interview with an imprisoned Tutsi killer: "Killing was less wearisome than farming.In the marshes,we could lag around for hours looking for someone to slaughter without getting penalized.We fell asleep every evening safe from care.."
Or this: "I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes to spread a lively terror" Winston Churchill

 
At 12:54 PM, April 16, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

I think the banality refers to the fact that such evil is not extraordinary but latent in lots of people. I thought of her remark when I recently saw Downfall, a movie portraying Hitler as the consummate banality.

I also get nightmares whenever I watch something about Saddam or his sons, like Voices of Iraq.

 
At 12:55 PM, April 16, 2005, Blogger PatCA said...

I think the banality refers to the fact that such evil is not extraordinary but latent in lots of people. I thought of her remark when I recently saw Downfall, a movie portraying Hitler as the consummate banality.

I also get nightmares whenever I watch something about Saddam or his sons, like Voices of Iraq.

 
At 9:30 PM, April 16, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

All this time in captivity has probably been devoted to bargaining with him to get some of the money back that he has squirreled away by the billions. I'm sure he has enough money to be able to bargain for his life but I'm not sure how the Iraqi people can be placated without his execution.

 
At 3:57 PM, April 17, 2005, Anonymous Paul said...

For his crimes Saddam should be turned over to the Kurds !

 
At 10:41 AM, April 18, 2005, Blogger Steve S said...

I read that post just the other day - he has an update that says it was a simulation: an actor playing Saddam, to see what he might say.

But I think this shows the - I believe justified - power of the "banality of evil" meme. I wouldn't be surprised if Saddam truly believed these things.

Interestingly, many in Stalin's prison camps wrote to him, explaining that there must have been some mistake made. They thought he would rectify the situation. At least Iraq's people know what truly happened.

 

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