The circumstances around the death of Muammar Gaddafi are unclear and likely to remain so. He was filmed injured but alive, and then later died of gunshot wounds, including one to the head.
It wasn’t a death in combat — from which he was fleeing when injured — and he may well have been the victim of extra-judicial killing. Libyans will now not have the opportunity to put their former dictator on trial and, had he ever been released from whatever penalty was imposed on him in his own country, nor will the International Criminal Court.
Nonetheless, that is Gaddafi’s fault. He had innumerable opportunities to negotiate an end to the conflict that erupted in Libya in the aftermath of the flight of Tunisia’s Ben Ali — a subject on which Gaddafi thought fit to lecture Tunisians and their use of social media — and accelerated after Hosni Mubarak was driven from power in Egypt. Even after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for him, there is little doubt the western powers engaged in providing air support for the uprising would have been happy to accept a negotiated settlement in which Gaddafi went into exile and safety elsewhere, perhaps with his good friend Hugo Chavez.
Instead, Gaddafi chose to fight on even after he lost his capital to a exquisitely timed and impressively co-ordinated uprising in Tripoli. In doing so, even he would have been aware of the risk he was taking of ending up like Romania’s Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu. And that, it seems, was his fate, one that has been met with an eruption of unbridled joy among the populace he had terrorised for decades.
It is regrettable that he will never be compelled to answer publicly for the long litany of crimes he inflicted on his country over the course of decades. Instead, he died humiliated, surrounded by enemies, wounded and begging for mercy. But given the monstrous nature of his régime and, particularly, of his response to the uprising against him — and that he courted exactly such a fate — that’s an outcome not entirely devoid of justice.
Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh should take heed and understand they may well face a similar choice to Gaddafi. For their countries’ sake, we hope they choose more wisely than he did.
| Listen to yesterday’s Canberra Calling Podcast!