Africa — October 19, 2011 at 11:30 PM

False Start

In a previous article titled Taming the tiger, I was highly critical of Muammar Gadhafi and his response to the Libyan unrest. A lot of time has passed since that article and I am now singing a different tone. Not that I am against the vanquish of the colonel who seized power in Libya 42 years ago and refused to relinquish it. I am crying foul because of the way he was killed and the manner Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) treated his corpse.

First, based on documented evidence, Gadhafi was killed in a manner not consistent with international rules of engagement in wars. He was captured alive and posed no threat to no one after the nab. To pump a bullet through his head, execution-style, makes no sense. If anything, it complicates the transition of Libya to the next level, and I am not sure that’s what the NTC wants. Libya’s path to reconciliation is complicated enough, and acts like this are self-defeating.

Realizing that the ex-dictator’s execution was in poor taste the NTC made a spirited attempt to explain away the single gunshot wound on his forehead. According to the NTC Gadhafi got killed in a crossfire after his capture. Crossfire? What a poor excuse. Crossfire from whom or from where? After the capture there was no report of a resistance from anybody, persons or a brigade. How come Gadhafi was the only one that got fatally hit in the crossfire? Clearly no person of reasonable intellect is buying the crossfire story.

Understandably, there was no love lost between Gadhafi and his captors, but common sense should have prevailed. The proverbial saying that two wrongs don’t make a right couldn’t be truer here. You cannot commit a deliberate wrongful act and cite revenge for a previous “wrong doing” as defense. Gadhafi’s dictatorship and whatever atrocities he committed during his reign are vile, and so is his manner of death.

I have heard and read some excuses that maybe the NTC did not authorize his execution and that, somehow, NTC soldiers did the killing on their own without any order from a superior authority. That argument is without merit because NTC  soldiers had a command and control structure. I find it hard to believe that after his capture no telephone calls or radio messages were made to any superior officer in Tripoli, Benghazi or Misrata.

It also beats me that after the capture NATO  was not informed that the hit it (NATO) just carried out was on target, and that Gadhafi was in custody. After all, before NATO carried out the hit it must have communicated with NTC forces to avoid a friendly fire. Obviously, NATO forces used satellite to monitor the fighting and movements in Sirte, Gadhafi’s home town, with the hope of tracking his escape attempt.

The crucial point is that there was some form of coordination between NTC forces on the ground, NTC officials in Tripoli or Benghazi, and NATO forces. So, based on common sense, NATO forces must have been informed by NTC forces or some high ranking NTC official in administrative position, that Gadhafi had been captured alive. The question that begs an answer is what NATO instructed (or did not instruct) upon learning of the capture. That said, the excuse that NTC forces that captured the former despot  killed him without consultation with the other parties, is lame. The excuse is a cover-up initiated for damage control purposes.

Another troubling point is the non-burial of Gadhafi’s corpse quickly according to Islamic rites. A one-day exhibition of the body should have been enough. I don’t fathom a reasonable reason for displaying the body in a grocery store refrigeration unit for five days before it was buried in an unmarked grave in a desert. That move by the NTC is tasteless, and all it did was build hate between Gadhafi’s tribe and the rest of the country. Wrong move for a transitional council that stated that one of its main reasons to oust Gahdafi was to bring democracy and rule of law to the people of Libya. Since Gadhafi was apprehended alive, he deserved a day in a court of law either in Libya or Hague, Netherlands.

Reports had it that Gadhafi’s tribe requested his body be handed over to them for proper burial. Most observers thought that after bungling his killing, that the  NTC  would seize the opportunity of the tribe’s request to make amends, and pave way for peace. Again, the NTC showed poor judgment by refusing the request, and burying the body at a secrete desert location.

The NTC by acting the way it did has sown seeds of discord instead of promoting reconciliation which it preached before the ouster of Gadhafi. The NTC’s action thus far shows that it is acting more out of emotions rather than intellect. Clearly, the NTC has its work cut out, and to act in ways that fan the embers of odium and acrimony, is not helpful.

It does not take a genius to see that the NTC’s actions stem from a copycat syndrome to emulate the United States’ capture and killing of former Al-Qaida leader, Osama Bin Laden. But Gadhafi was no Bin Laden. Comparing both men is like comparing apples and oranges. Whereas both men were accused of terrorism they differ in the sense that Bin Laden had worldwide ideological followership. The United States feared, and rightfully so, that if Bin Laden’s body had a physical site of burial that it would turn into an ideological pilgrimage for his followers. The calculation being that such a pilgrimage will inspire and embolden his supporters, and consequently result to more acts of terrorism.

Gadhafi, on the other hand, had no ideological followers. His supporters were largely his tribes men and women, and those who benefited from his regime. Following his death most of these supporters became demoralized and faded into the shadows. It was unlikely that handing his body to his tribes men for burial would have started another civil war. Instead, such a gesture would have served as fertilizer for the much-sort-after propitiation by the NTC.

Thus far, the NTC’s initial actions at unifying Libya are not encouraging. It is a false start. The council must now recalibrate and reach out to all tribes for healing and reconciliation. An inquiry into the circumstance that led to the ex-junta’s execution (including that of his bodyguards and his son, Mutassim) is a good place to start.

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