Humiliating Saddam

Oh, all right…let’s talk about Saddam Hussein’s underpants.

It’s newsworthy, isn’t it? You know, the boxer-briefs thing that Bill Clinton was so eager to clear up. Now we know murderous dictators wear briefs too. That’s vital to our understanding of the international power structure, don’t you think?


Well, there’s got to be some reason the fact that Saddam wears briefs is newsworthy; after all, a British tabloid splashed the scoop on its front page, and a hearty number of US papers ran the pictures after that. That must be it…the pictures of the former Iraqi bully in his undies are newsworthy because another paper printed them, and thus they’re controversial! That makes lots of sense.


Then how about this: some people think that just because someone is a lousy excuse for a human being, it justifies humiliating him with stunts like taking and publishing sneak photos of the guy looking like what he is…a middle aged man who, like most of us, doesn’t look so hot in his skivvies. And there are just enough low-minded newspaper editors out there to make the idiotic plan work. Well, what’s the harm, really? Taking embarrassing photos of the fallen ruler of a country isn’t like, oh, to make up a wild fantastic example, having a grinning female GI hold him at the end of a leash, right?

One can assess the values of a nation by how it treats its enemies, and it is becoming alarmingly obvious that the United States is failing the test. There is no justification__none__ for humiliating a man who is in prison, even a very bad man, even a mass murderer. We gave up throwing fruit at people in stocks, and we decided that parading miscreants through town covered with tar and feathers was barbaric. When we use our power over other human beings to exact gratuitous, pointless cruelty; when we exploit our advantage to humiliate and degrade, we simply reduce the ethical and moral distance between us and those we condemn as monsters.

The fact that Saddam Hussein wears underwear has no news value whatsoever, except perhaps to the Fruit of the Loom people, and there was no reason except base voyeurism and juvenile nastiness for any newspaper to print those pictures. As for the idiot who took the pictures, well, a person who takes pictures of Saddam in his briefs is a person who takes pictures of people in their briefs. What do we call such people? Perverts? Peeping Toms? And what do we call the people who print such pictures? Oh that’s right: journalists.

Mercy. Consideration. Decency. Kindness. These are the qualities that denote honor and responsibility on the part of those with power, and those are the values that guide the treatment of prisoners, criminals and enemies by the truly ethical. Anybody can be fair and humane to nice people; you want to fair and humane to nice people. The test of ethical values is whether you can apply them to people who would never apply them to you…because those people aren’t ethical.

If we can’t resist such cheap and petty attempts to embarrass captured dictators, we aren’t ethical either. This is not, as the disgraceful editor of the Sun claimed, just deserved indignity that is scant retribution for Saddam’s estimated 300,000 murders. This is like pulling the wings off flies and tying tin cans to the tails of dog. This is a symptom of people losing touch with right and wrong.

Let the Beast of Baghdad put his pants on. He should be punished for his horrific act, not because his jailers have more too much in common with their prisoner.


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