Iraqi president Jalal Talabani did something incredibly brave last week: He announced that he would not sign the death warrant for Tariq Aziz, who is, in Christopher Hitchens’ opinion, “one of Iraq’s worst enemies.” In a column for Slate, Hitchens reveals some little-known “appalling facts” about Saddam’s old lieutenant—like the fact that he bribed inspectors, or promised to “turn off” his country’s support for terrorism in exchange for sanction relief. Yet Hitchens praises Talabani’s courage in commuting his sentence.
Aziz was essentially to be executed for the brutal suppression of the Dawa Party—Nouri al-Maliki’s power base. “The last time this standard was employed, it led to something horribly close to a lynching of Saddam Hussein,” Hitchens writes. “The death of Aziz, a pathetic and contemptible figure, would be little more than the conclusion of a vendetta.” By making a stand, Talabani has proven himself a “brave and humane social democrat,” giving Hitchens hope that Iraq can yet become “a state of law instead of a state of blood.”