Death By Hanging: What Saddam Faced

"When you get a very vigorous trauma happening like this, one of the body's reactions is unconsciousness," Young said. "I think the time of death could vary on all kinds of circumstances, but we're talking about a few minutes at most when it comes to judicial hanging, if it is set up properly."

"The most definite thing is that there is not likely to be sustained suffering."

In either of these first two scenarios, Saddam's heart would have likely continued to beat for up to 20 or 30 minutes after his brain ceased to function. Though Saddam would have been technically dead at this point, officials conducting the execution would have allowed his body to continue to hang until his heart ceased beating.

There is also a third possible scenario.

"If they drop him too far, his head pops off," Lyle said. "But I don't think that we have to worry about it going wrong. I have a feeling the Iraqis know what they are doing."

Is It Humane?

In addition to the current controversy over Saddam's death verdict in general, many debate the choice of hanging as the method of execution.

As of 2005, hanging was still a legal form of capital punishment in 58 countries, including the United States, according to statistics from Amnesty International. It is the sole method in 33 countries.

"Traditionally, hanging is thought to be one of the more -- if not the most -- gruesome methods of state execution," Sarat said. "It is also thought that to be hung is a special dishonor. Most people in this situation would choose to be shot."

Lyle said, however, that death by firing squad is probably associated with the most complications.

"They try and aim through the heart, but people have been shot through the heart and lived, for a while at least," he said.

Among the remaining choices of execution, which include the electric chair and lethal injection, Lyle said hanging confers the second-highest possibility of complications.

"Hanging, next to death by firing squad, is the one that could have the most defects," he said.

"Then again, this is Saddam, so who cares? At least they're not going to stone him."

But Sarat said that regardless of the method, there is no justification for judicial killing in a civilized society.

"I'm not sure there is any method of execution that passes the test of being anything other than barbaric," Sarat said.

"It is very possible that Americans will think that this is a person who deserves execution. But as for the choice of hanging as a method, I hope and expect it to be found by people around the world to be barbaric."

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