Despite Misgivings, White House Says Little Against Hanging

Despite Misgivings, White House Says Little Against Hanging
January 4th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Despite Misgivings, White House Says Little Against Hanging

Despite Misgivings, White House Says Little Against Hanging
New York Times
January 4, 2007
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg
WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 — The White House declined Wednesday to criticize the conduct of the execution of Saddam Hussein, even as State Department officials and military leaders in Baghdad raised questions about the timing of the hanging and the way the condemned dictator was taunted by Shiite guards as he stood on the gallows.
Spokesmen for President Bush said he had not seen the video of the execution Saturday, and Mr. Bush himself refused to answer questions about it. Appearing in the Rose Garden with his cabinet to talk about a balanced budget, the president turned his back and walked away when a reporter called out to ask whether he believed that the hanging had been handled appropriately.
The circumstances surrounding the hanging have prompted public demonstrations among Mr. Hussein’s Sunni loyalists in Iraq and outrage around the world. Yet, while Bush administration officials said in quiet background conversations that they agreed that the execution was bungled, the White House insisted in public on Wednesday that the president was concentrating on the future of Iraq and that he was content to leave the investigation to the Iraqis.
“The most important thing to keep in mind is, this is a guy who killed hundreds of thousands of people and received justice,” said Tony Snow, the White House press secretary. Mr. Snow said too much attention had been paid to “the last two minutes” of Mr. Hussein’s life and not enough to the previous 69 years.
With Mr. Bush set to make a major speech, possibly as soon as next week, outlining a new strategy in Iraq, the handling of the execution has put the White House in a difficult position. The president in November proclaimed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki “the right guy for Iraq.” Now Mr. Maliki faces international criticism for his decision to press ahead with the hanging, and questions about whether he is as committed as Mr. Bush to reconciling sectarian differences in Iraq.
The execution was carried out at the onset of a major Islamic festival that began on Saturday for Sunnis and on Sunday for Shiites. Mr. Hussein was subjected to mockery and cries of “Moktada!” — a reference to Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose militia has been responsible for attacks against Sunnis.
“It really was disappointing to see that they didn’t have better control over the execution, so that you wouldn’t have had that scene, with the demonstration from Moktada’s supporters,” said a senior administration official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, to avoid the appearance of interfering in Iraq’s sovereign affairs.
But another official said that the White House had decided the execution did not “rise to the level of a presidential comment” and that it was best to let other parts of the administration do the talking.
In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the top American military spokesman, conceded that the United States would have handled the execution differently, but said that the final decisions were up to the Iraqi government.
The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said that American officials had raised questions last week about the timing of the hanging, but that the execution had been warranted as the result of what he called a “very solid” judicial proceeding. He acknowledged that television images of Mr. Hussein being taunted at the gallows could further inflame tensions. “This happened,” he said. “It wasn’t supposed to have happened, but it happened.”
Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

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