Why does it matter how Gaddafi died?

THAIER AL-SUDANI REUTERS Libyans wait in line to see the corpse of Muammar Gaddafi in a meat container in Misrata … Continued



Libyans wait in line to see the corpse of Muammar Gaddafi in a meat container in Misrata October 24, 2011. Libyans filed past Muammar Gaddafi’s decomposing body for a fourth day on Monday, keen to see for themselves that the fallen strongman was dead, while talks dragged on among emerging local factions over disposing of the corpse.

It matters how Moammar Gaddafi died because the challenge for Libya now is to turn from murderous tyranny toward a democracy that respects the rule of law and human rights. That “arc of history” bending “toward justice” just became more difficult for Libya because of the serious questions that have emerged about exactly how Gaddafi died.

On Friday, cell phone videos and photos began to circulate that appear to show Gaddafi injured but clearly alive after his capture, and then dead after a group of insurgent fighters surrounded him. Thus, the United Nations and human rights groups have appropriately started to call for an investigation into the death of Gaddafi as a war crime.

“If you take these two videos together, they are rather disturbing because you see someone who has been captured alive and then you see the same person dead,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told Reuters Television.

The term “humanitarian” in the concept of the use of force to prevent genocide, as the Responsibility to Protect doctrine argues, refers to the moral justification for the action. Force is still force in such a concept, and war will still be war in such an action; lethal violence is bound to occur. Thus, as in the conduct of any war, including one in a coalition action justified for humanitarian purposes, if such use of force includes war crimes, they need to be investigated.

Once Gaddafi became a prisoner, the Geneva Conventions that prohibit mistreatment of prisoners of war, including torture and murder, applied.

One way or the other, the question of how Gaddafi died needs to be fully resolved, through an open investigation. The establishment of the rule of law in Libya, a crucial step toward becoming a more just and democratic society, depends on this. For the Libyan people, a Gaddafi captured and brought to trial to be held responsible for his many alleged crimes, including accusations of torture and murder of others, would have been an important step on this road to a more open, accountable civil society. But that cannot happen. Gaddafi died. The question now is, ‘how?’

That question must be answered, and an open investigation into Gaddafi’s death in Libya can still be a step toward the establishment of the rule of law. This is the position articulated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said Sunday, “From my perspective, such an investigation would be very important to establish accountability, rule of law and pave the way for the inclusive democratic future that the Libyans tell me that they want.”

But even with an open investigation, which is by no means certain, damage has been done. The cell phone videos and pictures of Gaddafi alive and bloodied, and then dead, apparently after being in a crowd, are surely creating another narrative. The risk from these images is that they could turn Gaddafi into a martyr for those who wish to continue an insurgency. The manner of his capture and death can thus become a justification for revenge.

As the United States has learned, the photos of the torture of Iraqi prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison remain on the web indefinitely. Indeed, new and very graphic (viewer discretion advised) photos have been released more recently and these continue to fuel a revenge narrative against the United States.

The Libyan people may very well also find that the videos and photos of the death of Moammar Gaddafi circulating on the web, whatever their correct interpretation, will create a renewed cycle of violence, making it even harder to undo the wrongs of the decades of Gaddafi’s tyranny. Justice is, for this reason, not an historical absolute, nor can it be subject to an “ends justify the means” rationale, even when those “ends” are ending tyranny and bringing about a more just, democratic society.

Despite all those disturbing realities, however, there is always the possibility of creating more justice and less tyranny. History did not end today. What the Libyans must do is forthrightly confront the reality of violence and revenge, not just in the death of Gaddafi but also in their nation for the last four decades, and systematically create a different future by acting in a different way, the way of respect for human rights and justice.

Therefore, the most important point going forward, as Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch contends, is the National Transitional Council in Libya making good on its pledge to “respect international human rights standards.” Gaddafi “didn’t rule alone, and it is vital that high-level officials who survived the conflict be investigated and, if credibly accused, be given a fair trial for their roles in the most serious crimes.” These trials can and must take place, hopefully in the near future.

But now, the first step in the creation of the new Libya, and what will set the stage for respect for human rights and the rule of law in the new nation, needs to be a full and open investigation into how Gaddafi died.

  • mjenness

    its easy for us to sit here in the USA and say law and order is the proper way to go. However if that was me and if my family had suffered on his watch with the amount of suffering he had caused to me personally and or to my family members, i would be tempted to flay him alive! Justic or not he got what he deserved. He had the choice to lay down his arms and chose not too! Instead he participated in the murder of innocents and slaughter of hundreds. Justice was served and none too soon!

  • mjenness

    Its easy to sit here in the USA and make comments about justice or lack of in Libya but if it was my family who had suffered or been killed by him i would have flayed him alive! He had the chance to lay down his arms and go away he chose not to and instead killed hundreds of innocent people. Justice was served and none to soon!

  • Benson

    It says a lot when you overthrow a country’s leader for killing and being inhumane, and then the new regime is killing and being inhumane to the old regime.

    It’s not worth throwing our military force into conflicts just to get a different regime that’s no better than the old regime.

  • jckdoors

    Well, I see the sanctimonious crowd is alive and well. Perhaps, had you had to live under the killer thug Gaddafi, you would see it differently. The Lybians don’t seem very upset that the mad dog is dead. Gaddafi wanted martyrdom, he got his wish.

  • Rahi1

    so, the relatives of innocents victims of Drone attacks in world wide are legitimately placing boms and committing suicide attacks ? since their brothers, sisters and fathers and mothers were killed without any guilt, they are justify to kill in order to take revenge ?

  • jetlone

    It was war, Ghadaffi promised to slaughter his people and did…These were NOT SOLDIERS but citizens who had been oppressed for years!

    Not sure that the Geneva Convention would apply with an unorganized body of citizens demanding freedom from a dictator of 42 years!

    Nice try but hard to get the to legal merits!

  • gonenow

    His death could not have been cruel enough to punish him adequately.

    Dictator 0 — Lybia 1

  • ChicagoJim

    It matters because we become the savages that he was if we don’t care. Ours is a sacred system of justice that has unfortunately become held hostage to elements, many times posing as “Christian”, that seek to circumvent the principles that guided the establishment of that system.

  • ChicagoJim

    Oh my, I read these comments after I posted mine. We have become the savages that Qaddafi was.

  • OpinionatedWimp

    It has been true down through written history and no doubt before.

    France helped our country break its ties to England. They put a lot of money and even their lives on the line for it.

    Then we committed atrocities almost immediately. Stealing human beings and bringing them here to be slaves is the first thing that comes to mind. Refusing to allow women and blacks a vote or a voice in the a government that ruled their lives. Our government, from time to time, and in a variety of ways, has done some truly awful things.

    Just the fact that people who are innocent of the crime they were put to death for is an example of atrocities committed in the name of our government.

    We have been, for all intents and purposes, done more good than bad, imo. But we have done our ‘bads’, too.

    I prefer to hold off and see how these people are going to create their new government and systems. I don’t assume that all the people are for torturing their enemies prior to killing them.

    I hope I’m right.

  • newsbleat

    “t matters how Moammar Gaddafi died because the challenge for Libya now is to turn from murderous tyranny toward a democracy that respects the rule of law and human rights”

    If you were paying attention you would have known that the new leaders in Libya have declared that Libya is going to be another dictatorial Islamic tyranny under Sharia Law, which puts people to death for insulting Islam. Such insults include preaching Christianity or any other religion. THE TALIBAN AND IRAN are good examples of Sharia rule.

    Muslims in fact hate democracy and are very outspoken in saying so. Democracy directly conflicts with Islam. Libya will never be a democracy or anything close to it, and any politician who says otherwise is either stupid or a liar.

  • PithyOpiner

    You are full of beans, Susan. What needs to be done is get the country on the road to solvency and good governance. Gaddafi got what he deserved, end of story. Let the Libyans restart their country without interference from you and everybody else. They have every right to make their own mistakes on the road to a new Libya. Let us leave them alone to start their travel. They can do it.

  • LoneWolf1

    What blithering nonense, a pack of chimps would stand a better chance of forming a government and from there a civilization. This festering armpit of the world serves only one purpose, it’s a crap magnet to pull all of this bi-ped feces into one central location for a clean bombing run. That is all.

  • LoneWolf1

    Libya seems positively civilized compared to Shitcago Jimbo, and by the by, would you take your little Emperor back? Hes’ done quite enough damage already as Puppethead Potus.

  • LoneWolf1

    The slave trade was alive and well without us then and is still alive and well today wherever Muslims are. Sadly as a democrat you expose your absolute lack of knowledge of almost all things. True we did purchase slaves and Republicans freed them and democrats fought tooth and nail to keep them enslaved, without a vote or subjugated until they learned the beauty of enslavement by going on the government dole, abortion to control the undesirables and class warfare. You hope you’re right, you voted for hope-N-change and as usual you got nothing of the sort.

  • les54tom

    Matters more to people who can’t accept that our President and his administration has done a better job at fighting “the war on terror” than RepugnantCONs.

  • les54tom

    I have a suspicion that Sec. Clinton’s leash will be tightened soon, particularly if she makes more comments similar to the current media vaunted sound-bite.

  • les54tom

    “That question must be answered…” No, not really. It may be, but it doesn’t have to be.
    And, FYI, it already was. Didn’t see the video? Perhaps,the author was too busy forming an opinion to tout.
    First clue: bullets to the head can be deadly.

  • OpinionatedWimp

    Obviously you, Lone, think the US has not committed atrocities. You’e all over yourself trying to excuse them.

  • gigajohn12

    America is a purulent abscess on an earth body. Why you consider that this abscess so it is good and fine? You are too insatiable and blood-thirsty. Remember Vietnam, Hiroshima, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Libya!

  • ccnl1

    Update on our War on Terror: ======================>

    – Bin Laden was executed for crimes against humanity on May 1, 2011

    – Ditto for Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011

    – Ditto for Gaddafi on October 20, 2011