Vatican Opposes Death Penalty for Saddam

A top Vatican cardinal said Tuesday Saddam Hussein should face trial for his crimes, but stressed the Vatican's opposition to the death penalty and criticized the U.S. military for portraying him "like a cow" having his teeth checked.

Cardinal Renato Martino (search), head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (search), said he felt compassion for Saddam and that the world should have been spared the images of his medical examination after his capture.

"I feel pity at seeing this destroyed man, treated like a cow having his teeth checked," Martino said. "I have seen this man in his tragedy ... and I had a sense of compassion."

The cardinal said he was pleased with the capture and he hoped it would bring peace and democracy to Iraq, but stressed it wasn't the answer to the problems of Iraq or the Middle East.

And in a further indication of the Vatican's opposition to the U.S.-led war, he said: "It seems illusory to hope that it will repair the drama and damage of the defeat against humanity which war always is."

Martino said the Vatican hoped Saddam would face trial in an "appropriate" venue, but didn't elaborate on whether that should be an Iraqi court or an international tribunal. When asked about reports that Saddam could face the death penalty, Martino stressed the Vatican's long-standing opposition to capital punishment, as well as the fact that no U.N.-backed court has the death penalty.

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Jim Nicholson, said in a statement that Saddam "will now be prosecuted with dignity and justice — two basic human rights he never afforded to anyone else."

He also cited praise from Iraqi Chaldean Catholics for Saddam's arrest. "A dictator, who has killed or ordered to be killed millions of people, now is no longer free to do so. As the Chaldean Catholic bishops of Iraq have said, 'Fear has ended."'

Martino spoke at a news conference to launch Pope John Paul II's (search) annual message for the World Day of Peace, which the church celebrates Jan. 1.

In the message, the pope addressed both world leaders and terrorists, urging a renewed respect for international law, which he said was the only way to assure world peace and guard against the arbitrary use of force.

John Paul did not mention the United States by name or cite its war against terrorism. But his message appeared aimed at the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign — and in particular at the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which was launched without U.N. authorization.

"Peace and international law are closely linked to each other: law favors peace," the pope said.

John Paul was a vocal critic of the Iraq war, dispatching envoys to Washington and Baghdad to try to prevent hostilities and exhorting world leaders that war wasn't inevitable and was "always a defeat for humanity."

In the 15-page document, he outlined the history of international law, culminating with the creation of the United Nations and its charter, which states military force can only legitimately be used against countries in self defense or when the U.N. Security Council approves it.

The pope acknowledged that international law concerns relations between countries, and is thus unable to deal with today's threats of terrorism and violence spawned by rebel groups.

He called for reform of the United Nations and new legal treaties to confront terrorism "with effective means for the prevention, monitoring and suppression of crime."

But he stressed that until that time, "democratic governments know well that the use of force against terrorists cannot justify a renunciation of the principles of the rule of law."

The fight against terrorism, he said, cannot be limited to solely "repressive and punitive operations" against terrorists, but by addressing the reasons why they strike in the first place.

"On the one hand, by eliminating the underlying causes of situations of injustice which frequently drive people to more desperate and violent acts; and on the other hand, by insisting on an education inspired by respect for human life in every situation," he wrote.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls was asked at the briefing how the 83-year-old pope, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, is able to write speeches and other documents. Navarro-Valls said the pope these days "dictates more and writes a bit less, because dictating he can do more in less time."