No mercy for Gadhafi, but who pulled the trigger?
Grisly photos of the killing of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi graphically captured the final moments of the fall of one of the most tyrannical and longest-serving dictatorships of the late 20th century. “He died like a dog” was the defining epitaph of his demise.
Gadhafi ruled his country for 42 years with an iron fist, but when he was captured on Thursday by rebel fighters in his birthplace, Sirte, his face was smashed and bloodied. His half-naked body was dragged on the street, leaving a trail of blood on the pavement.
He pleaded to his captors not to shoot. “Don’t kill me, my sons,” a wounded Gadhafi, his hands raised, begged a revolutionary fighter after the dictator was dragged out of his hiding place—a drainage pipe full of filth and rubbish. His ignominious death brought to mind ancient Rome’s gladiators whose corpses were dragged out of the arena by chariots.
Gadhafi’s death marked the end of the Libyan revolution after eight months of savage fighting that started in February. Gadhafi was toppled from power in August, when the rebel forces captured Tripoli, the Libyan capital. He made his last stand in Sirte, which was fiercely defended by loyalist forces.
US President Barack Obama, whose country joined the European-led military intervention to put an end to Gadhafi’s rule, hailed the dictator’s death as a warning to authoritarian leaders across the Middle East that iron-fisted rule “inevitably comes to an end.”
British newspapers reported the death of Gadhafi with powerful pictures and dramatic headlines such as “Death to a dictator,” “No mercy for a merciless tyrant,” “Murdering rat gets his just desserts,” “Mad dog put down.” The Guardian newspaper conceded “he (Gadhafi) said he’d fight to death, and for once, he stuck to his word.”
“He died as he lived, and (was) shown no mercy as he pleaded for life,” the Daily Mirror said. “For 42 years, Colonel Gadhafi terrorized his own people and the world.” The image of Gadhafi’s half-naked corpse could be “prophetic” for tyrants elsewhere, the Guardian added.
A BBC editor commented, “So Colonel Gadhafi, the last remaining dictator from the 1960s, has joined the other dictators of the Middle East who have fallen, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.”
Disquiet over death
In the more politically volatile regions outside the rich Western democracies, Gadhafi’s violent end dominated the front pages in the Middle East and Africa. Editors said the gruesome end was not surprising, given the repressive history of his regime, but some commentators expressed disquiet at the “inhumane” and “humiliating” treatment meted out to him. A number regretted he was not brought to trial.
Newspapers in sub-Saharan Africa said the death of Gadhafi served as a warning to other autocratic rulers. Egypt’s Al-Ahram said his rule was marked by despotism, tyranny and suppression of citizens’ rights, and with his exit, the “world will definitely be different and better without Gadhafi.”
An editorial in Saudi Arabia’s Al Jazeera said: “The humiliating end of Libya’s tyrant was expected, like all the tyrants who served their people wrongly … Gadhafi was left to bleed as the revolutionaries tried to save his life and give him a fair trial … A humiliating death that we hope serves as a lesson to other tyrants who still cling to power, commit crimes … and continue to kill their people to remain in power.”
Gadhafi’s body lies on a mattress in a commercial freezer for vegetables and onions in Misrata, where it was taken after his capture. The burial has been delayed until circumstances of his death is examined and a decision is made on what to do with the body.
As the National Transitional Council marked time, a controversy has erupted over whether Gadhafi was executed by the revolutionary forces after his capture or was killed in the crossfire from “stray bullets” in the siege of Sirte.
Questions are mounting as to what exactly happened during Gadhafi’s last moments following his capture. UN human rights officials have raised concerns that he may have been shot dead.
Some press reports, citing accounts by revolutionary forces, said he died from wounds in 30 to 40 minutes as an ambulance took him to Misrata. But accounts differ on how those wounds had been inflicted.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has called for a full investigation. Her spokesperson, Rupert Colville, told BBC that the killing could have been illegal.
“There are two videos out there, one showing him alive and one showing him dead. And here are four different versions of what happened in between those two cell phone videos. That obviously raises very, very major concerns,” Colville said. “People get killed in wars and that is recognized clearly in international law. On the other hand, it is also very clear under international law that summary executions, extrajudicial killings are illegal.”
The United States has called on revolutionary officials to give an account in an “open and transparent manner.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “The way the death happened poses an entire number of questions.”
The revolutionary council performed a post-mortem on Gadhafi’s body on Saturday. In an exclusive interview with BBC, the commander of the forces that captured Gadhafi in Sirte gave details of the events leading to his death.
Omran al-Oweib said the wounded strongman had been dragged from the drainage pipe where he had been hiding, took 10 steps and collapsed. Then, gunfire broke out between Gadhafi supporters and revolutionary fighters. The commander said it was impossible to tell who fired the fatal bullet.
He said he had driven Gadhafi to a field hospital, where he was pronounced dead. “I tried to save his life, but I couldn’t,” the commander said. In the parlance of Filipino police reporters, Gadhafi was “dead on arrival.”
The commander merely echoed the official line. Acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril earlier told journalists that a “forensic report” had concluded that Gadhafi died from bullet wounds after he was captured and driven way.
“When the car was moving, it was caught in the crossfire between the revolutionaries and Gadhafi forces,” he said quoting from the report. “The forensic doctor could not tell if it came from the revolutionaries or from the Gadhafi forces.”
Revolutionary fighters gave a different account. They said Gadhafi had been shot by his captors when he tried to escape.
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