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Revenge is Not Justice in Libya
By Micah Halpern

Monday November 21,2011


Ghadaffi is dead and that should not have happened.

Moammar Ghadaffi, the Colonel as he preferred to be called, was murdered. Not in battle or a shoot out, the thug-hero who ruled Libya was murdered, in cold blood, after he surrendered.

Rules of war, as well as the rules of Islam, require that when a person surrenders, he be taken prisoner. Even tyrants. Even despots and dictators. Even Moammar Ghadaffi. But that is not what happened.

The question that needs to be asked is this: Was the murder of Moammar Ghadaffi the best outcome. In other words, was it best to drag him, beat him and kill him or should Ghadaffi have been arrested and then tried in a court of law?

Any established democracy would respond by saying that the tyrant should be brought to trial and be given legal representation - but Libya never was and is still not, a democracy.

In all probability, with almost certainty, had Ghadaffi been brought to trial he would have been given a death sentence, a sentence which he rightfully deserved. That is not the issue I am debating. My issue is whether or not this death, dealt in this fashion, was the best course of action to be taken by a developing country emerging from forty-two years of oppression.

The rules of war are very clear. The ethical and just ways of acting in war are also clear. Killing in war is justified, not simply because the clich of 'kill or be killed' is true, but because war is about survival. In this case, the war was about eliminating the dictator who ruthlessly oppressed and maimed and killed the people of Libya over an extended time. It was about ousting an oppressive murderous tyrant.

As long as the Ghadaffi was fighting, killing was justified by those in opposition to his rule. But as soon as the dictator stopped fighting, the equation changed. That is when killing as an act of war turned into murder. After that, the only way to take a life is by way of trial, conviction and then execution.

It is the role of the soldier to protect the life of his prisoner once that prisoner surrenders. That is the case regardless of the horrific extent of the prisoner's crimes. So says the rules of war and so says the rules of Islam.

Ghadaffi knew the rules. That is why, on the tapes, we hear his voice shouting: 'You are wrong.' 'You do not know right from wrong. 'You do not know Islam.' 'You sin.'

Ghadaffi was counting on this eventuality. He had thought it through. He knew that there was a chance that he would be captured and not killed in battle. And if that were to happen he wanted to make certain that he would receive protected status as a prisoner. But it didn't happen. Instead, the angry crowd reportedly sodomized him with a combat knife before lynching him. We heard only one voice saying: 'Do not kill him' as Ghadaffi was dragged off and murdered.

Rules aside, there are other reasons why it was wrong, morally, ethically, historically and financially wrong to murder Ghadaffi. Unfortunately, these reasons were never made clear to the opposition fighters, Libyans interested only in exacting immediate revenge for the gruesome acts committed by the tyrant who ruled over a thugocracy in Libya.

From the very beginning, as the rebellion started and the no-fly zone was erected, opposition leaders should have made clear to their fighters that capturing a live Ghadaffi was more important than displaying a dead Ghadaffi. They should have explained that the cathartic experience of recording the hundreds of thousands of atrocities perpetrated by Moammar Ghadaffi, of recording each and every one and entering them all into the historical archive, was essential for national healing.

A public trial, where the horrific acts would be articulated, broadcast, written down as part of the history, even if it took years, would eliminate the possibility of the re-writing history, or questioning of the veracity of events, years later. It was for this purpose that Adolf Eichmann was captured, brought to Jerusalem and tried publicly. The objective of Israel was to enter events as part of the legal and historical record. Had Ghadaffi been brought to trial his trial would have been an educational tool and a historical catharsis for a country that suffered under a brutal tyrant.

Then there is the subject of money. $200 billion or more is socked away. No one knows where. That is money that should be used to rebuild Libya. It is money for education, health and retraining. It is money that the families of those Libyans tortured, terrified and murdered by their leader could use.

This $200 billion, or it's equivalent, will now come out of the pockets of Western democracies, of Western tax payers who will foot the bill for the lion's share of the first stages of reconstruction Libya so desperately needs after the rebellion. Certainly, the Libyan oil industry will help offset the cost - but only later on. If Ghadaffi were still alive and able to reveal where this $200 billion is, that money could be put to use immediately.

But these Libyans were not interested in history. These Libyans were out for revenge. And that is just what they got. And that is not good news for the future of Libya.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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