today iraq's highest appeals court upheld the conviction and death sentence of unrepentant deposed president saddam hussein. the court ruled that the verdict must be carried out anytime in the next thirty days. sic semper tyrannis.
sixteen years ago, caught in the debris of the dramatic collapse of the soviet union, romanian head-of-state and communist party leader nicolae ceausecu found himself in a hauntingly similar situation during the holiday season of 1990:
nicolae and elena ceausescu scoffed when a romanian military tribunal sentenced them to death, and even as they faced their executioners they believed that state security police would rescue them at the last minute, their attorney said in a published report yesterday.
nicu teodorescu, in an interview printed in the times newspaper, said he tried to prevent the christmas day execution of the ceausescus by advising them to plead mental instability to charges of corruption, embezzlement and murder.
"when i suggested it, elena in particular said it was an outrageous setup," said teodorescu, who was hastily-summoned to a military barracks to conduct the ceausescus' defense. "they felt deeply insulted, unable or unwilling to grasp their only lifeline. they rejected my help after that."
teodorescu, one of bucharest's most prominent lawyers, told the times that nicolae ceausescu showed "absolutely nothing but contempt" when the tribunal delivered its verdict of death, telling the prosecutor, "'when this is all over, i'll have you put on trial.' we all laughed."
about 15 minutes after sentencing, soldiers marched the couple out of the barracks and into a yard, he said. the ceausescus believed that they were being taken to a cell but instead were hastily gunned down by a rabble of soldiers, and not an organized firing squad, he said.
"the first they knew they were about to die was when the bullets hit them," said teodorescu, who said he was about 90 feet from the site. "elena and nicolae fell head to head. as they fell their bodies spun slightly around and they fell close to each other, about 30 centimeters apart."
his account differed from that of film shown on state-run television, which showed the blood-splattered couple propped up against a wall.
the newspaper said it was possible that the bodies were moved for the benefit of the camera.
"ceausescu was convinced all along his securitate [secret police] would rescue him," teodorescu was quoted as saying. "i always thought that elena was the dominant force in the partnership, but i soon came to realize nicolae was in command. they complemented each other perfectly, like a monster with two heads."
the lawyer said he agreed to defend the ceausescus because "it seemed an interesting challenge." the tribunal comprised three civilians, five judges and assessors, two prosecutors, two defense lawyers and a cameraman, reported teodorescu, the only member to give a public account.
"when i saw [the ceausescus] dead, as a lawyer i didn't feel anything at all," he said. "but as a citizen, i, like everybody, rejoiced. it was the most beautiful christmas in my whole life."
as much as hussein justly deserves his fate, in the wake of the ever-spiralling death and chaos his ouster precipitated, there can be little doubt that many in both washington and baghdad quietly regret the impetuous decision to invade. as the only living person known to have been able to contain iraq's violent passions, the idea of turning back the clock, however utterly fantastic, must be sorely tempting.
from the bonus trivia corner: hussein's november 5th death sentence is not his first such conviction. for his role in the 1959 cia-supported attempted ouster of iraqi prime minister abdul karim qassim — who had himself come to power the previous year in a military coup that deposed and executed iraq's last royal family — saddam hussein was sentenced to death in absentia while he lived in exile in cairo on the largesse of the cia.