Notes From the Margins…

In the sewer with Colonel Gaddafi

  • October 22, 2011
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Does anyone feel that dragging a wounded man, albeit a dictator from a sewer, and then beating and shooting him in the head is an essentially vile act that has  nothing to do with law or justice?

Not Hilary Clinton, who quipped in an interview with CBS News on Gaddafi’s death that ‘ We came, we saw, he died’ and chortled like some malicious high school creep out of Mean Girls.  This was only two days after she visited Libya and informed the Libyan government-in-waiting that the US  would like to see Gaddafi ‘killed or taken prisoner‘.

We all know  that the Peace Laureate and his administration generally prefer the former these days even when, as in the case of Bin Laden, they have the opportunity to carry out an arrest.   Certain prisoners can be an awkward presence, especially when they go on trial and start revealing  inconvenient or uncomfortable facts about previous relationships and alliances that are better left unsaid.

Perhaps this is why Crispin Black argues   in the First Post that

‘There will be those who would have preferred to see him brought to justice, either in Libya or in The Hague. As more information comes out it looks as if Gaddafi allowed himself to be taken alive. Perhaps he was hoping for his day in court. But it is better this way.’

Why is it better?  Because

[stextbox id=”alert”]The fact that Gaddafi and at least one of his gruesome sons, Mutassim, the one with long hair and shiny suits, were killed yesterday may go some way to assuaging the revenge instinct of those Libyans who suffered under his rule.

Controlling this perfectly natural desire to revenge family and friends who suffered imprisonment, beatings, torture, rape or death at the hands of Gaddafi”s henchmen over the years will be vital if the country is to have a future based on the rule of law. Otherwise a murderous regime will merely have been replaced with a murderous lynch mob.[/stextbox]

So allowing a murderous lynch mob to kill the dictator and his sons will prevent a murderous regime from being replaced with a murderous lynch mob and pave the way for the rule of law.   Oh now I get it.

And unlike Charles I, there’s no need for a trial,  since ‘ Gaddafi would have been dangerous in the dock. He wasn”t just a brutal dictator; at times he seemed to have a window into the Libyan national psyche‘.

So in Black’s estimation ‘  Far from closure, the lengthy proceedings would rake up all the tensions and divisions of the past. If mishandled, the whole process would look merely like victor”s justice undermining the legitimacy of the new government.

And no need for the International Criminal Court at The Hague either because  ‘ The dullness of the court and its proceedings would hardly impress as a forum for stern justice. Worse, it would be to many, ‘western’, not ‘international’ justice’.

Yes.  Trials are so tedious aren’t they?   I mean, why did Argentina bother putting Videla and Co. on trial for crimes committed under the dictatorship?   Why not just put a bullet in their heads and avoid the boredom – and maybe torture them first just to get some more closure?   And what about the Nuremberg trials of Nazis?   Why did they bother with that when they could have put them all up against a wall and saved everybody the boredom of hearing their crimes examined and exposed?  And wasn’t Goering ‘dangerous in the dock?’

Of course Gaddafi’s ‘ window on the Libyan psyche’ might have cast some unwelcome light on his former cronies who jumped ship when it suited them and damaged their future career prospects.   Then there are some of the alliances established with the EU over the last decade, the various rendition programmes in the ‘war on terror’ etc.   So yes, probably best to keep that window shut.

And anyway, who are we to judge, asks  Peter Popham in the Independent, squirming in his liberal skin as he  concedes that

[stextbox id=”alert”]For us, the footage of Muammar Gaddafi’s body dead or alive, who knows being dragged off a truck by a crowd of screaming men, who then hauled it about and kicked it like a football, was deeply disturbing: the lynch mob at its most primeval. But who are we to judge? We never lived under the man’s all-powerful terror.[/stextbox]

Still doesn’t make it right Peter.   And it isn’t just Gaddafi who has been hauled and kicked about by the fighters that – with NATO’s assistance – brought his regime down. Reprisals, massacres, torture, beheadings of prisoners, racist violence directed against African migrants – all these actions suggest that even if Gaddafi was a dictator, his opponents didn’t have the moral high ground.

That is a position the  Sun newspaper will never occupy.  Today its on-the- spot reporter Oliver Harvey can be seen posing in the sewer where Gaddafi was hiding and kneeling on the pavement in Sirte in front of two corpses with a singularly cretinous expression like a dorky-looking tourist abroad.

You wouldn’t expect the Sun to do anything else but gloat and cheer about Gaddafi’s ‘filthy lair’ – its always been fond of rodent imagery when talking about Britain’s foreign enemies and loves to provide its readers with a vicarious homicidal thrill.    But the satisfaction and sheer pleasure that so many politicians and the media have taken in Gaddafi’s savage demise suggests that many others are also in the sewer with Harvey, and definitely not looking at the stars.

Various organizations, including the UN and Amnesty International, are suggesting that Gaddafi’s  execution may be a war crime.   But hey,  let’s not let any of this get in the way of a good time.  Cameron, we now hear, is a visionary military leader who has triumphed over the ‘armchair generals’ .   The  NATO campaign may be a ‘model’ for future operations in the future – maybe Iran or Syria?   And British companies are being urged to ‘pack their suitcases‘ and head off for Libya to take part in ‘reconstruction’  projects.

There’s a pleasing symmetry about this ‘model’ from the point of view of Western elites.  First bomb a country to smithereens from a great height, so that the arms industry gets to use its weapons and then replenish the stock, all the time insisting it’s in the highest interests of humanity, democracy, peace etc.   If possible avoid putting any troops on the ground apart from a few special forces, so that you don’t pay any political price for your ‘intervention’ and only the natives get killed.

And then, when it’s over, send your companies in to get the contracts from your new-found allies to rebuild what you’ve destroyed.   And all this with zero casualties! What’s not to like?

It’s all good for us, and it may be good for some Libyans, though not the estimated 50,000 who have died in the last ten months, or the thousands of migrants who drowned trying to get out of the country.   But I can’t help feeling that the way this war has gone, and the way it has ended, really doesn’t point towards a society where democracy, human rights and justice are likely to be high priorities, and that as in Iraq, talk of an ending may turn out to be premature.





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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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