The ignominious end of Col. Muammar Qaddafi should have been in the dock at the Hague, not in a bloody heap in Misurata.
That's what some commentators outside Libya are now saying about the strongman's demise, which came after Qaddafi was pulled from a hiding place in a drain pipe and, apparently, executed with a shot to the temple.
The commentary comes as the official story about Qaddafi's death — rebels initially said he was captured alive but then killed in a crossfire between them and remaining loyalists — falls apart. New cellphone camera video shows the bleeding, living Qaddafi being pummeled and taunted by rebel fighters after his capture; one appears to come away from the fray, having wrested off one of the dictator's leather boots. Amnesty International, The Washington Post reports, "warned that the killing could be a war crime."
The rage was understandable, after years of brutal rule, and akin to the abrupt offing of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania and the sons of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Christopher Hitchens writes. But that doesn't mean it was a fresh beginning for the newly independent Libya, or much of an endorsement of the International Criminal Court.
"And so the new Libya begins," Hitchens writes in Slate, "but it begins with a squalid lynching."
At the close of an obscene regime, especially one that has shown it would rather destroy society and the state than surrender power, it is natural for people to hope for something like an exorcism. ... But Qaddafi at the time of his death was wounded and out of action and at the head of a small group of terrified riff-raff. He was unable to offer any further resistance. And all the positive results that I cited above could have been achieved by the simple expedient of taking him first to a hospital, then to a jail, and thence to the airport. Indeed, a spell in the dock would probably hugely enhance the positive impact, since those poor lost souls who still put their trust in the man could scarcely have their illusions survive the exposure to even a few hours of the madman’s gibberings in court.
Hitchens' argument doesn't go as far as some others, including anti-NATO activists who condemn the entire Libyan uprising as an American-led coup, or political figures elsewhere in Africa. The Botswana National Front denounced Qaddafi's killing as "a crime," and hailed his efforts to combat colonialism and imperialism.
Global Post turned the question over to its readers, and received mixed responses. Some thought he should have been put on trial for alleged war crimes, while others agreed, in essence, with the natural impulse to exorcise that Hitchens described. "I believe that his death was because of an act of war that he started," one wrote.
Some of those who captured Qaddafi seemed to anticipate this response. In one of the graphic videos of his capture, fighters can be heard shouting, "Don't kill him! We need him alive!"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.