So the Butcher of Baghdad is dead. He certainly deserves it. But was his execution necessary or even prudent? As I watched news coverage leading up to his hanging, I was reminded of a great line from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. After Frodo says that Gollum deserves death, Gandalf responds:
Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it.
Did Saddam deserve death? Absolutely, but by what authority was he executed? What are the possible repercussions of his execution? Is not the possibility of increased violence a reason not to execute him? What about possible repentance and conversion? Unlikely, but possible. As a Catholic, I hold true to the Church's teaching that capital punishment is a legitimate punishment, but alternative, bloodless means may be better suited. Did he deserve death? Yes, but we cannot possibly see what might have happened had he been allowed to live.