Saddam gets death sentence in show-trial…

As expected, a court in Baghdad's heavily defended Green Zone handed Saddam Hussein a death sentence today. Former judge Awad Hamed al-Bander and Saddam's half-brother, Barzan Al Tikriti, also got the death penalty. Former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was sentenced to life in prison and three others got 15 years. One defendant was acquitted. The death sentences will automatically be appealed.

Baghdad has been locked-down in anticipation of a surge of violence following the verdict. Leave for Iraqi police and army units has been cancelled, and the city is on edge. Curfews have also been in effect in Diyala, where open sectarian warfare broke out not long ago, and in Saddam’s home region of Salaheddin.

Despite the extraordinarily suspicious timing of the verdict, I doubt that it will give the Republicans much of a boost at the polls on Tuesday. The outcome has long been a foregone conclusion and people's opinions about the war have been pretty much set for months.

And if there is a new wave of violence, the rushed decision could very well backfire; instead of two news cycles with the Fox News ticker reading "Justice for Saddam," the last 48 hours of the campaign could be dominated by stories of the unfolding chaos. (I'm not hoping that'll happen -- it'd be the kind of despicably cynical anything-for-domestic-political-gain attitude that's been the guiding principle of so many decisions in Iraq and that's added so much to the mess -- but it's a real possibility.)

A few points about the trial. As I've written before, the proceedings were expected to last months longer. The verdict was first pushed up to October 16, and then pushed back to today, ostensibly to give the judges more time to review the evidence.

This week, we learned from an article in the Washington Post that at least part of the reason the trial took less time than anticipated was that the presiding judge cut short the evidentiary phase before all the defense witnesses could be heard:

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