The Libyan people deserved a trial

Colonel Gaddafi is no more. As his country fell from his grasp mile by mile, and the pockets left under his control were measured in metres, not miles, it was only a matter of time. But as he was killed, rather than captured, there will be serious questions for the NTC – Libya’s new government – or whoever it transpires was responsible for his death.

Was Gaddafi killed in a firefight, or was this an “extra-judicial killing”? Who (if anyone) signed off on the use of deadly force? Were NATO countries signed up to the idea of getting their man “dead or alive”? There was a time when we called such killings “assassinations”…

Clearly there has been a concerted effort in recent months to eliminate Gaddafi from the skies when apprehending him seemed more difficult. If the death of a such a dictator can bring a swift end to such a gruesome and bloody war then perhaps such measures are necessary. But when someone is cornered – as Gaddafi surely was – surely it was within the ability of the NTC (and certainly NATO) to take him alive.

The Libyan people – and the world – deserved to see Gaddafi tried, but it’s hard not to feel that was never likely. A show trial would give him a bully pulpit from which to try and rebuild his reputation and attack/implicate others. That was surely a risk worth taking to get to the truth, but the grubby world of realpolitik meant that wasn’t going to happen. It seems that we no longer try our enemies. Those against whom there is a wealth of evidence need not face trial. A troubling precedent…

There will be few that will mourn the death of Gaddafi – and why should anyone mourn the death of a brutal and cruel tyrant? Sadness should be focussed on those found in the ever increasing number of mass graves, civilians killed indiscriminately in cities like Benghazi and political opponents he has “dispatched” over the past 42 years.

But the inability – or unwillingness – of Western powers and our allies to capture such unpleasant characters and try them in a court of law for their crimes should give us all serious pause for thought tonight.

I’m not sad to see the twisted tyrant gone – on the contrary, I’m hopeful that this could herald a new and democratic dawn for Libya – but I’m sad that the Libyan people didn’t get to put him on trial. Regardless of what the “mad dog” deserved, it’s what Libya – and the greiving loved one’s of Gaddafi’s victims – deserved.

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