Reflections on Gaddafi's Death

10/24/2011 12:37 pm ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

Even though every death is a moment of sadness, the end of every bloodthirsty dictator -- if it could lead to an expansion of civil rights -- is also a moment of happiness. Gaddafi, as the architect and head of a dictatorial system based on terror, was doubtlessly accountable for many murderous deaths.

By meeting demands for democratic openings with total obstinacy and extraordinary violence against his own people, he precipitated the intervention by NATO. Since he did not understand the new balance of forces in the field, he was soon to become a de facto "Dead Man Walking."

Brutal and defiant to the end, Gaddafi became a victim of his own tyranny. At last, after being "wounded by NATO rockets" he was "captured during fighting." If he was killed by his captors, this casts doubt on the promises by Libya's new rulers to respect human rights and eschew revenge. It should also embarrass Western governments, which gave their complete backing to the National Transitional Council (NTC). If Gaddafi was, in fact, murdered, his killers have deprived Gaddafi's victims of seeing their executioner tried, and deprived the new nation the primary example of a fair trial. Many analysts think that was right to overthrow the tyrannical regime of Qaddafi but the cruelty of his end opens in the Libyan society wounds the effects of which will be seen in the future only.

Muammar Gaddafi's last dramatic moments were captured on video and released on the Internet. In one of the videos he is bloody -- wounded but alive and conscious, asking for his life, and in the other, dead.

In the time between these two videos, he met his end in what appears to have been a sort of "mob tearing" and "extrajudicial execution."

The same fate befell his son (Mo'tasim). According to Der Spiegel, German intelligence agents reportedly helped find the fugitive dictator.

Extrajudicial execution is evidenced by the controversial announcements by exponents of the NTC, and by NATO's earlier rocket attack on his compound. The NATO rocket attack constitutes a "targeted killing," with no possibility of live capture. It is not difficult to guess the motives of those who ordered the extrajudicial execution. The State sponsored assassination prevents any secret deals from being exposed and covers any possible hypocrisy on the part of the "victors".

There are those who claim that all "targeted killings" are immoral and illegal. These critics characterize such actions as "extrajudicial executions". The celebrated attorney Alan Dershowitz demands that terrorist leaders and functionaries be treated as common criminals who must be arrested and brought to trial.

Although it is pretty much universally acknowledged that Gaddafi applied terrorism domestically and sponsored terrorism internationally, he was the nonetheless Head of State.
Humanity must seriously reflect on the "ethics and realpolitik of assassination."

Our forefathers fought Nazism, basing their heroic action on the moral strength of legal principles as the cement that binds together all civilized people and nations; after the war, Nazi-fascists were put on trial at Nuremberg. What are the power players of our era doing? Each of us individually, all the great powers, and especially the democracies who are members of NATO, must look in the mirror and reflect.
UN Security Council resolution 1973 authorized "all necessary measures, [...] to protect civilians." The UN -- the supreme arbiter of international legality -- had not requested the execution of Gaddafi.

Humanity cannot forget that the only alternative to civilization by the rule of law, is barbarity.