Gadhafi’s death fitting for defiant dictator

October 28, 2011


— You’ve got your Mexican standoff, your Russian roulette, your Chinese water torture. And now, your Libyan crossfire. That’s when a pistol is applied to the head and a bullet crosses from one temple to the other.

That’s apparently what happened to Moammar Gadhafi after he was captured by Libyan rebels — died in a “crossfire,” explains Libya’s new government. This has greatly agitated ACLU types, morally unemployed ever since a Democratic administration declared Guantanamo humane. The indignation has spread to human rights groups and Western governments, deeply concerned about the manner of Gadhafi’s demise.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Early in the revolution, Gadhafi could have had due process. Indeed, he could have had something better: asylum (in Nicaragua, for example) with a free pass for his crimes. If he stepped down, thereby avoiding the subsequent civil war that killed thousands of his countrymen, he could have enjoyed a nice fat retirement, like that of Idi Amin in Saudi Arabia.

Like Amin, Gadhafi would not have deserved a single day of untroubled repose. Such an outcome would itself have been a gross violation of justice, as he’d have gone unpunished for his uncountable crimes. But it would have spared his country much bloodshed and suffering.

Such compromises are fully justified and rather common. They are, for example, the essence of the various truth and reconciliation commissions in countries transitioning from authoritarianism to democracy. In post-Pinochet Chile and post-apartheid South Africa, it was decided that full justice — punishing the guilty — would be sacrificed in order to preserve the fragile social peace of the new democracy.

The former oppressors having agreed to a peaceful relinquishing of power, full justice might have ignited renewed civil strife. Therefore, these infant democracies settled for mere truth: a meticulous accounting of the crimes of the previous regime. In return for truthful testimony, perpetrators were given amnesty.

Under the normal rule of law, truth is only a means for achieving justice, not an end in itself. The real end is determining guilt and assigning punishment. But in war and revolution one cannot have everything. Justice might threaten peace. Therefore peace trumps full justice.

Gadhafi could have had such a peace-over-justice compromise. He chose instead to fight to the death. He got what he chose.

That fateful decision to fight — and kill — is the prism through which to judge the cruel treatment Gadhafi received in his last hours. It is his refusal to forgo those final crimes, those final shellings of civilians, those final executions of prisoners that justifies his rotten death.

He could have taken a de facto amnesty for all his previous crimes, from Pan Am 103 to the 1996 massacre of 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison. To reject that option and proceed to create an entirely new catalog of crimes — for that there is no forgiveness. For that you are sentenced to die by “crossfire.”

So he was killed by his captors. Big deal. So was Mussolini. So were the Ceausescus. They deserved far worse. As did Gadhafi. In a world of perfect justice, this Caligula should have suffered far more, far longer. He inflicted unimaginable suffering upon thousands. What did he suffer? Perhaps an hour of torment and a shot through the head. By any standard of cosmic justice, that’s mercy.

Moreover, Gadhafi’s sorry end has one major virtue: deterrence. You are a murderous dictator with a rebellion on your hands. You have a choice. Relinquish power and spare your country further agony, and you can then live out your days like Amin — or like a more contemporary Saudi guest, Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Otherwise, you die like Gadhafi, dragged from a stinking sewer pipe, abused, taunted and shot.

It’s not pretty. But it’s a precedent. And a salutary one. One that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for example, might contemplate. Continue to fight and kill, and expect thereafter no belated offers of asylum — not even the due process of a long talky judicial proceeding in The Hague with a nice comfy cell, three meals a day and the consoling certainty that your captors practice none of your specialties: torture and summary execution.

Call it the Gadhafi Rule: Give it up and go, or one day find death by “Libyan crossfire.” Followed by a Libyan state funeral. That’s when you lie on public view for four days, half-naked in a meat locker.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.


Gandalf 6 years, 5 months ago

Under the normal rule of law, truth is only a means for achieving justice, not an end in itself. The real end is determining guilt and assigning punishment. But in war and revolution one cannot have everything. Justice might threaten peace. Therefore peace trumps full justice.

Hey right wingers! Does that mean the so called assassination of a American Al Qaeda on foreign soil was the correct call?

Surely your demigod can’t be wrong!

Rick Aldrich 6 years, 5 months ago

Was Ghaddafi a US Citizen, protected by The Constitution?

Liberty275 6 years, 5 months ago

I think, the fellow was pointing out the difference between the US assassinating a Libyan and an American. I doubt the poster cares at all about Gaddafi who was not protected by the constitution, and only really used the circumstance to highlight that an American Citizen was deprived of his constitutional rights by forces acting under the current commander in chief.

Like me, I doubt he cares what these pundits say and will argue with or against any and all of their opinion pieces, as he sees fit.

Liberty275 6 years, 5 months ago

"These are strong words and not unexpected in campaign season, but they do have a disturbing ring of truth."

The left needs to look into that "ring of truth" from every angle and decide if they like what they see.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Gadafi was responsible for orders of magnitude fewer deaths of innocent people than George W. Bush, and probably even less than Obama.

When will Chuck be writing about the "fitting" deaths of these two guys?

Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

I still with he had been taken alive. The Hague was waiting.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 5 months ago

In a perfect world.... well, we don't live in a perfect world. So we have to roll with the punches a bit.

kernal 6 years, 5 months ago

And, now his family claims they're going to file a war crimes complaint against NATO; as if that's going to get the ICC to cancel the warrent against Saif Gadhafi and his brother-in-law. Imbeciles.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

Condolences to bozo on his loss. At least he still has Hugo and Fidel.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Snap will never be lonely-- he always has himself and his straw men to argue with.

camper 6 years, 5 months ago

Hugo? I would not put him in the same league. In fact he has put his people 1st rather than the interests of OPEC and big oil. Unlike the Middle East, Venezuela is using it's natural resource to the benefit of its citizens.

He has a good human rights record which he has been commended for making improvements to the welfare of indigenous peoples. He has lower marks however for potential restrictions on the courts and press.

Perfect? No. A good leader for his country? I believe yes, despite US media characterizing him as a dictator and Socialist.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 5 months ago

I am in nearly complete agreement with Krauthammer on this one. Amazing.

yourworstnightmare 6 years, 5 months ago

I am in nearly complete agreement with Krauthammer on this one. Amazing.

Mixolydian 6 years, 5 months ago

Proper order of credit:

  1. Libyan rebels
  2. Sarkozy and France
  3. Cameron and Great Britain
  4. Obama and the USA

Krauthammer gave credit where it was due.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.