Revenge is the true hydra: you cut off one head and nine more instantly appear. The gallows isn't a justice machine it's a martyr maker.
When Saddam's half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, was executed on Monday, January 15, we are told he was trembling with terror. That might have been vaguely enjoyable to my "revanchist within," but to have the man's head torn off like a chicken tortured by schoolboys that's horrifying.
No, my retribution impulse was not satisfied. And I suspect there is no real endgame for anyone's sense of revenge.
This I had to learn as a witness to my own reactions.
During a dinner with British embassy officials in Jordan, where I gave a poetry reading in 2001, I heard details about what Saddam was doing in the Iraqi police state that chilled my blood and made me long for his overthrow and, yes, even his death.
As much as I opposed and detested George Bush's war in Iraq, the silver lining for me was always going to be my secret pleasure at the execution of Saddam. The fact that his life would be taken on the gallows and not via some less lyrical machine, like the electric chair, was a bonus.
I say "lyrical" because there's a kind of "narrative symmetry" to the gallows that is quite compelling: the crooked man who is yanked straight by the weight of his own being in free fall, trapped by that last loophole in the law.
With Saddam, there was always the hope that he would finally lose his implacable terrifying composure. But that's where he let me down. He took over the theatre of the moment with complete mastery, retorting to his tormentors with a quickness worthy of Jon Stewart and giving us the best on-camera death since Aslan's in The Chronicles Of Narnia.
Even in the last snuff photo of him with his head twisted sideways like one of those ducks in a Chinese restaurant his features remain placid. All they've done is yank the life out of him a little bit early; they haven't touched his composure. No satisfaction. No satisfaction at all. Justice would have been better served if he'd ended up making licence plates in prison with Manuel Noriega.
The attraction to revenge is mighty, and almost ineluctable, but you don't have to look far to find fuel for resistance. Steven Truscott, the youngest person (14 years old) ever sentenced to death in Canada, only escaped having his own head ripped off for justice by the eventual commutation of his sentence to a 10-year stretch in the federal pen.
A Court of Appeal review of his case resumes January 29. Fortunately, he and David Milgaard are still alive today to remind us: not only is capital punishment unsatisfying and immoral. It's also irreversible.