Muammar Qaddafi’s last moments were captured on video and released on the Internet: In one he is alive and in the other, dead. How the Libyan dictator met his end may now come under scrutiny in a United Nations probe.
One of the videos shows Qaddafi with a gunshot wound to his head after a struggle with fighters. At first he is seen with no injuries, wearing desert fatigues and kneeling on the ground surrounded by men holding pistols. Later, blood is pouring from the side of his head as he is helped to his feet and escorted to the back of a pickup truck.
During the footage, a voice is heard shouting out in Arabic: “Don’t shoot.”
The manner of Qaddafi’s death may offend tribes that were loyal to him and stoke new tensions in a manner reminiscent of the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s execution in 2006. Then, video of the Iraqi dictator’s death showed Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, being taunted by Shiites before his hanging in Baghdad.
Muammar Qaddafi’s tribe demanded the NTC hand over his body and the bodies of his dead sons to be buried in Sirte “in accordance with all customs and principles, Islamic and humanitarian,” Al Arabiya television reported, citing a statement made by leaders of the tribe.
It is understandable that four decades of oppression have generated mass hatred for Qaddafi, according to Rashied Omar, a research scholar of Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute.
“But there is a clear Islamic ethic of dealing with one’s enemies” and the Koran doesn’t condone killing to deliver justice, Omar said in an e-mail.
Qaddafi’s corpse is being kept in a refrigerator in Misrata and no decision has been made yet on where he will be buried, Ali Tarhouni, oil and finance minister in Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, said in an interview. The International Criminal Court in The Hague, which indicted Qaddafi, will need to confirm his death and complete paperwork, the Associated Press reported, citing Mohamed Sayeh, a member of the NTC, which led the movement to overthrow the dictator.
Photographs online that show gunshot wounds to Qaddafi’s head may shake people’s faith in the government’s ability to deliver justice even if a probe reveals the orders didn’t come from the National Transitional Council.
Hundreds of Libyans gathered for Friday prayers in Benghazi’s seaside Liberation Square, where photos of victims killed by Qaddafi’s forces were hanging on walls and poles.
“If the rebels could have captured him and put him on trial, it would have been better,” said crowd member Tarek Bougrein. “He practiced tyranny and there are so many files that should have been opened had he been still alive. But what can we say? That’s his destiny.”
Split Among Tribes
Benghazi, the stronghold for the rebels, has traditionally been hostile to Qaddafi and reactions to his death may not reflect views throughout the country, which is split among myriad tribes that showed allegiance to Qaddafi in the past. Libya will be formally declared liberated tomorrow in Benghazi, according to Jalal El Gallal, an NTC spokesman.
“Killing him is the least they can do,” Ahmed Ferjani, a 40-year-old medic, said. “He was more dangerous than Hitler and he was a threat not only to Libyans but to the whole world.”
Nazi ruler Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in April 1945. Days earlier his ally, Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, was caught and executed by partisans and hung upside down in a Milan piazza where his body was beaten by an angry mob. Under Mussolini, Libya became an Italian colony.
Qaddafi is the third autocrat to be toppled and the first to die in this year’s Arab Spring uprisings. Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak was toppled a month later and is currently on trial, accused of conspiring to kill protesters who opposed his rule.
While Libya doesn’t have Iraq’s sectarian Muslim rivalries, it does have regional and tribal divisions. The fear of revenge attacks against tribes that remained loyal to Qaddafi was one of the reasons civilians in Bani Walid and Sirte held out so long against the insurgency. Qaddafi’s son and heir-apparent Saif al- Islam is still at large and the NTC is trying to determine his whereabouts, spokesman Gallal said.
There are four or five different videos of events leading to the death of Qaddafi, Africa’s longest-serving despot, including one where a rebel is seen holding the former dictator’s golden handgun.
“Taken together, these videos are very disturbing, and more details are needed to ascertain whether he was killed in the fighting or after his capture,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview from Geneva.
A summary execution of someone who no longer poses a threat is illegal under international law.
Qaddafi went into hiding after forces loyal to the NTC stormed the capital, Tripoli, at the end of August. Since then, senior officials have sought to unite the factions that helped overthrow Qaddafi and called for Libyans to refrain from acts of revenge. NTC chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil threatened to resign if law and order wasn’t respected.
Qaddafi’s 42-year rule was marked by torture, killings, disappearances and scores of other human rights violations. Libya’s justice and police systems were geared to supporting Qaddafi and his family members, so one of the challenges for the new leadership is to create balanced and independent legal structures.
“An important part of the transition from dictatorship to democracy is creating a fair and balanced legal and police system,” Colville said. “People need to see people being investigated, properly prosecuted and jailed if warranted. That process is cathartic and helps establish law and order.”
Coalition planes two days ago noticed a convoy of dozen four-by-four vehicles trying to force their way out of Sirte, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said. A French jet fired its cannon ahead of the convoy to block it. NTC forces then closed in on the blocked convoy and Qaddafi was killed in the fighting, Longuet said.
Qaddafi fled from a jeep and dived into a large drain pipe, emerging after a gun battle holding a pistol and a Kalashnikov, a field commander identified as Mohammed al-Laith told Al Jazeera television. Shammam told Libya TV that Qaddafi had died while resisting arrest.
Acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said that Qaddafi was captured alive and unharmed after NTC troops overran his hometown of Sirte. He was caught in crossfire between the NTC forces and loyalists while being loaded onto a truck, Jibril said.
A doctor in Misrata identified only as Dr. Ibrahim who said he examined the former leader’s body told Al Arabiya television yesterday that he is 100 percent sure Qaddafi died from a gunshot wound to the head inflicted after he was captured.
“The more gruesome the videos of Qaddafi, the more questions will be raised,” said Jeff Laurenti, a UN analyst at the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group. “This will add to the discomfort level of those on the Security Council that vacillated before giving the green light.”
While the most powerful UN body acted quickly against Qaddafi, critics led by Russia have argued in the ensuing months that the resolution, sold as a way to protect civilians, instead became a pretext for regime change and must not be repeated.
Russian parliamentary official Konstantin Kosachyov said on his blog yesterday that “at first glance” Qaddafi’s killing “looks like a mob lynching.”
An investigation of Qaddafi’s death would be a “good idea,” South Africa’s envoy to the UN, Baso Bangqu, said yesterday in New York. South Africa, as a member of the Security Council, voted in favor of NATO intervention in Libya.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com