In America, our criminal law as inherited from England -- and specifically embodied in the concept of the "King's peace" -- is not meant to provide direct recompense to a victim, or an indirect victim, by means of the suffering of the criminal. Those victims must draw whatever solace they may from the state's punishment, as inflicted on the state's behalf. Pace Michael Dukakis, would I feel differently if, say, my wife were subjected to outrage and death? Of course: that is the human condition, and that is why we disallow direct personal vengeance in favor of a system of law. Thus, though it is easy to defend a policy of life in peacetime, if done without acknowledgment of, and compassion for, the anguish of those hurt by the criminal, it is reduced to mere moral posturing: an exercise in self-righteousness done not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of oneself. That is the calculation, attendant to the fate of the "ordinary" criminal.
And then there is Saddam Hussein.
It must be admitted that the killing of Saddam Huseein is a confounding event for an opponent of the death penalty like me. The ranks of those wholly meriting the final moments of agony, the fear of eternal horror, and the dread of God's justice are -- with respect to my Calvinist friends! -- small, but he is assuredly among them. There can be no sympathy for him as he struggles his last at the end of a rope: indeed, he will even then be in sublime comfort set against the twisting agony of the Kurdish children he gassed. There can be no regret for his lost potential, as he fully expressed it in his creation of a hideous police-state that consumed its children and ravaged its land. Nor can be sorrow for his circumstance, as he was master of his fate in his long decades of absolute power -- the only free man in Iraq -- and used his freedom to choose death and misery in full. The thing that will be done to him -- his execution -- is intrinsically wrong. But the things that he will feel as a result, in those final moments and beyond, will be right. Most victims of the gallows may be said to earn their fates: Saddam Hussein may be said to have chosen it.
For our own sakes, we hope for a merciful God, who will forgive even the worst among us. For Saddam Hussein's sake, we hope for a just God, whose face he never sees, obscured as it is by the visages of his countless victims.