David's Medienkritik, the excellent review of European journalism, presents both public opinion polling data and journalistic reactions to Saddam's hanging. Somewhat surprisingly, most countries had small majorities favoring the execution of the mass murderer. One exception was Italy, whose own dictator was hung by his heels after World War II, where only 46% supported the death penalty Saddam. Closest to the United States' overwhelming support was the UK, where 69% supported it. Even France had 58% in support.
Among mass media, the verdict was overwhelmingly negative. As David Kaspar aptly points out, the Euro-media are trying to create a wedge issue with the US, pretending that the gap in perceptions on the death penalty is a bloack and white issue. He also supplies invaluable context.
There is a lively debate on the death penalty on both sides of the Atlantic, with significant numbers and powerful factions on either side. Unfortunately, many in the German media have made death penalty out to be a divisive, "good versus evil" wedge issue. This stems in part from the transatlantic legal contrast: Most European nations have banned the death penalty while it remains legal in much of the United States.
The desire in influential segments of German media and society to reduce the death penalty to the level of a transatlantic wedge issue is also deeply rooted in another key factor: Ideology. The far-left in Germany is a political force to be reckoned with. Its representatives dominate wide swaths of the media, academia and certain political parties including the SPD, Greens and the PDS. Not only do representatives of the far-left reject the death penalty in all cases (putting them at odds with many ordinary Germans), they also oppose American-style free-market capitalism, smaller, less restrictive government, and the projection of American power in the world. This movement consists largely of an assortment of 68-radicals (including ex-Maoists, Leninists, RAF sympathizers, and your run-of-the mill Socialist demonstrators); ex-eastern-bloc-Communists; young people radicalized through academia, media and far-left political parties and movements; and out-and-out America-haters. Quite honestly, these folks would have rejected the execution of Hitler and Eichmann just as they reject the execution of Saddam. Ironically, they see the issue as a "black-and-white" - "with us or against us" issue. (Sound familiar?)