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Dead and Buried

What could have been done with Saddam's body.

10:25 AM, Jan 4, 2007 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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RELATIVELY SPEAKING, Saddam got off easy. The execution of the former Iraqi dictator was carried out with little fanfare. He was defiant to the end, saying, "Iraq without me is nothing," though he did look frightened. He refused a hood, which was then wrapped around his neck like a scarf. There were taunts and jeers from the small crowd (mostly in support of Moktada al-Sadr). And while Saddam was in mid-sentence, probably answering back to his executors, the trapdoor opened beneath him. He went down with a loud bang. Death seems to have come swiftly for Hussein, whose neck was probably snapped in an instant (as proper hangings are meant to do). Not long after, the corpse of the dictator was sent back to his family for a proper burial in Tikrit, alongside his sons, Uday and Qusay.

In an essay for Policy Review published a year ago, I speculated on how Saddam's inevitable demise would compare with the executions of other dictators and their ilk throughout history. Most notable were the hangings of Nazi war criminals in October 1946 following the Nuremberg trials, carefully documented by Whitney R. Harris in Tyranny on Trial:

"At eleven minutes past one o-clock in the morning . . . [Former Third Reich foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop] stepped through the door into the execution chamber and faced the gallows on which he and the others . . . were to be hanged. His hands were unmanacled and bound behind him with a leather thong. Ribbentrop walked to the foot of the thirteen stairs leading to the gallows platform. He was asked to state his name, and answered weakly, 'Joachim von Ribbentrop.' Flanked by two guards and followed by the chaplain, he slowly mounted the stairs. On the platform he saw the hangman with the noose of thirteen coils and the hangman's assistant with the black hood [Saddam's noose had seven coils]. He stood on the trap, and his feet were bound with a webbed army belt." His final words were, "God protect Germany, God have mercy on my soul. My last wish is that German unity be maintained, that understanding between East and West be realized and there be peace for the world." Unlike Saddam, Ribbentrop dangled for some 20 minutes before expiring.

The bodies of Ribbentrop and the others, however, were not simply returned to their families for burial. Instead, as Anthony Read reported in The Devil's Disciples, "a container holding all the ashes was driven away into the Bavarian countryside, in the rain. It stopped in a quiet lane about an hour later, and the ashes were poured into a muddy ditch." For Nazi sympathizers, there was little left that was tangible.

On the other hand, Saddam's burial plot is quite tangible. Located in his hometown of Tikrit, the grave could well become a shrine, a place to venerate the dictator. Saddam's supporters will be vigilant against acts of vengeance by the aggrieved, especially Shiites and Kurds who wanted the dictator tried for numerous other crimes. Historically, the aggrieved have not stopped seeking vengeance after the death of a foe.

In 1661, following the restoration of the Stuart monarchy, the corpse of Oliver Cromwell was dragged out of its tomb and posthumously executed. That's right: Cromwell's body was hanged, then decapitated, with his head impaled on a pike above Westminster Hall.

Will tourists be able to visit Hussein's final resting place years from now as they do Mussolini's in Predappio, Italy (where you can even sign the guest book!), or Lenin's in Moscow? (Stalin once shared the same mausoleum with Lenin but was later re-interred below the Kremlin Wall. A large statue and shrines to Stalin can still be found in the late dictator's hometown of Gori, Georgia.)

In Becoming Eichmann, author David Cesarini provides an explicit account of the final moments of Adolf Eichmann, the former SS lieutenant colonel kidnapped, tried, and sentenced to death in Jerusalem in 1962:

"[The observers] watched as the execution team placed the rubber-lined rope in two loops over Eichmann's head. He was offered a hood, but refused. The two executioners then took up their stations at the mechanism that operated the trapdoor under Eichmann's feet. Only one of the buttons would actually operate the door and neither man would know if he had perpetrated the final act . . . . His last words were: 'Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria. These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget. I greet my wife, my family and my friends. I am ready. We'll meet again soon, so is the fate of all men. I die believing in God.' With a click the trapdoor opened, Eichmann fell ten feet and the rope jerked. There was stillness and silence broken only by the swaying of the rope . . . ."