Defending Saddam?

I’m sure everyone is happy that Saddam Hussein was finally captured. It’s just that some people have a strange way of showing it.

When the world saw images of a disheveled Saddam submitting passively to a medical examination by a military doctor on Sunday, the reaction was overwhelmingly joyous. The Iraqis were dancing in the streets, celebrating the fact that Saddam would never threaten them or their families again. Here at home, the feeling was much the same — relief that this near-inconceivably brutal tyrant had reached the end of his reign of terror.

But for others, the images weren't cause for celebration. Instead, they were an opportunity to criticize American foreign policy and the handling of Saddam's capture.

Sound too far-fetched to be true? Just have a look at what Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace department, had to say about it: “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, [the doctor] looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures.”

Not pictures of Saddam's mass graves, or torture chambers, or mutilated subjects… no, the good Cardinal objected to pictures of Saddam's dental exam.

Bear in mind that these images served a concrete purpose. For one, it was important that Iraqis — and people everywhere, really — could see with their own eyes that the Americans had captured who they said they'd captured. Especially for the Iraqis, seeing Saddam without the trappings of his tyranny would help them shake their long-held fear and dread of the man who haunted their lives. He wasn't a threat to them anymore.

In addition, the footage showed clearly that Saddam was receiving humane treatment: Doctors were caring for his health, confirming that he had not been injured or abused. Later images showed a washed and shaven Saddam — not the kind of treatment that the anti-American camp would expect of us. It was important to document that treatment publicly.

And yet Martino not only empathizes with Saddam but criticizes the government's decision to release these images. Certainly it's important to remember Saddam's humanity in the months ahead — as heinous as his crimes are, he is still a person with human dignity. But can anyone really say that showing a picture of his dental exam is somehow demeaning his humanity?

And why pick this moment, when the entire world is celebrating his capture, to criticize those who caught him? Martino's comments suggest more than just an opposition to the war but a reflexive bias against America's actions… even her intentions.

It's important to remember that Cardinal Martino doesn't represent the official opinion of the Vatican. He is not the mouthpiece of the pope. So why is he so often quoted in the news? During the run-up to the war with Iraq, even the Vatican — with loud denunciation of the war — felt the need to quiet him. It was no longer simply his anti-war comments that were becoming problematic, but his anti-American stance as well.

And because Martino has made himself so highly visible, his comments regularly appear in the news and drown out those of Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the official spokesman for the Vatican; the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; and the new Secretary of Relations with States, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. It looks like Martino is pushing his own agenda instead of stepping aside and letting the appropriate officials in the Vatican speak for themselves.

What's more, anti-life politicians have taken advantage of Martino's outspokenness to make him appear to be “the voice of the Vatican” and drive a wedge between the Catholic laity and true pro-life politicians who may disagree with Martino's foreign policy. The cardinal's comments aren't limited to the religious sphere; they carry weight in the political world as well, without having the benefit of true teaching authority behind them.

To protest that this despot had to endure a tongue depressor is, frankly, just silly. The entire civilized world is rejoicing that this genocidal murderer was peaceably captured — the Iraqi Interim Governing Council (IGC) praised the capture and called it a “huge victory” for the entire human race. Why would Martino do any less?

He did say, “It's true that we should be happy that this arrest has come about,” but then immediately qualified that statement by cautioning against future violence and saying that it wasn't a “total solution to the problems of the Middle East.”

But who on earth said it was?

Martino spent many years representing the Holy See at the United Nations. His tenure of the U.N. mission was very successful — especially in the defense of life in developing countries — and made him worthy of his present position.

But the plain fact is Martino's comments make him appear insensitive to the boon this capture represents for the Iraqi people. Rather than criticizing the U.S. military for airing 30 seconds of Saddam's early detainment, he would have been better off expressing his sincere, unqualified wish that this capture will be the start of a path to peace and justice for Iraq.

Peace and justice: isn't that, after all, Martino's department?

Deal Hudson is editor and publisher of CRISIS Magazine. You can reach him via email at

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