Published December 17, 2003
LONDON – President Bush said Saddam Hussein deserves the "ultimate penalty" for his crimes, but he faced objections from European countries, the United Nations and the Vatican, which are adamantly opposed to capital punishment.
While most European countries have abolished the death penalty (search), it's not clear how vociferously they would object to a death sentence for the captured Iraqi president.
A day after saying his opinion on Saddam's fate doesn't matter and it's a decision for Iraqi citizens, Bush stepped forward with an unequivocal statement of his views.
"Let's just see what penalty he gets, but I think he ought to receive the ultimate penalty ... for what he has done to his people," Bush told ABC News' Diane Sawyer in an interview broadcast Tuesday. "I mean, he is a torturer, a murderer, they had rape rooms. This is a disgusting tyrant who deserves justice, the ultimate justice."
Bush said Saddam's punishment "will be decided not by the president of the United States but by the citizens of Iraq in one form or another."
Britain's left-leaning Guardian newspaper said Saddam should be tried by a United Nations-approved tribunal that would not impose the death penalty. "The last thing Iraq needs is another corpse — or a martyr," the paper said in an editorial.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said earlier this week that Britain opposes the death penalty, but it would have to accept an Iraqi decision to execute.
Yet Britain's top representative in Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock (search), said his country would not participate in a tribunal or legal process that could lead to execution.
The Vatican's Cardinal Renato Martino (search) stressed the Roman Catholic Church's longtime opposition to capital punishment.
He said he felt "compassion" for Saddam, despite his crimes, after seeing images of "this destroyed man" being "treated like a cow, having his teeth checked" by an American military medic.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the world body opposes the death penalty. The European Union shares his view.
"We believe there are no circumstances that can justify the death penalty," said Diego Ojeda, the EU's spokesman on external relations.
Claudia Roth, the German government's top human rights official, called for a fair trial for Saddam. "No death penalty must be imposed. That demonstrates the contrast to the dictator's system," she told the newspaper Bild.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (search), who supported the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam, also emphasized his country's opposition to execution.
The international community and the Iraqi leadership "must show the Iraqis that an alternative to the past decades' terror regimes exists," Denmark's Berlingske Tidende newspaper said.
Bush has long been a proponent of capital punishment. During his six years as governor of Texas, 152 convicts were put to death. All 15 member nations of the European Union have abolished capital punishment, and they often encourage other countries — most notably the United States — to eliminate it.
Members of the U.S.-appointed Iraq Governing Council (search) have predicted a quick trial and a quick execution for Saddam. The U.S. occupation authority suspended using the death penalty, and Iraqi officials have said they will decide whether to reinstate it when a transitional government assumes sovereignty, scheduled on July 1.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov, whose country opposed the war, said only Iraqis could decide Saddam's fate.
Australia's Prime Minister John Howard (search), who sent troops to fight in Iraq, said he would support the death penalty for Saddam. "If it were imposed, absolutely," he said.