Don't Hang Saddam, Says Vatican

As the world remains divided over the death penalty meted out to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Vatican and Roman Catholic officials said on Sunday that he should not be put to death even if he has committed crimes against humanity because every life is sacred.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace, said that carrying out the death sentence by hanging would be an unjustifiably vindictive action.

"For me, punishing a crime with another crime - which is what killing for vindication is - would mean that we are still at the point of demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," he was quoted as saying by Italian news agency Ansa.

"Unfortunately, Iraq is one of the few countries that have not yet made the civilised choice of abolishing the death penalty," said Martino.

Martino ruffled feathers in the United States government three years ago when he said the US troops had treated Saddam "like a cow" when they captured him.

The Roman Catholic Church has remained opposed to the death penalty except in the most extreme circumstances as it believes that modern society has all the means necessary to punish a criminal for his crime without taking his life.

Jesuit priest Father Michele Simone, deputy director of the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, said opposing the death penalty for Saddam did not mean accepting what he had done.

"Certainly, the situation in Iraq will not be resolved by this death sentence. Many Catholics, myself included, are against the death penalty as a matter of principle," he told Vatican Radio.

"Even in a situation like Iraq, where there are hundreds of de facto death sentences every day, adding another death to this toll will not serve anything," Simone said.

"In the common mentality of Iraqis, not carrying out the death penalty (on Saddam), perhaps for internal political reasons, might be interpreted as a privilege, because killings are so common every day," Simone said.

"But saving a life - which does not mean accepting everything that Saddam Hussein has done - is always something positive," he said.