Peter Baofu, Ph.D.
The jubilant reaction of Western powers and the foes of Muammar Gaddafi to his barbaric murder on October 20, 2011 raises some serious questions about war crimes committed by the Western-backed National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters and NATO forces.
There are two serious violations of international law here, namely, (1) in relation to the Third Geneva Convention in 1929 and (2) in relation to the UN Security Council Resolution #1973 in 2011. Let me explain first (1) the Geneva Convention and then (2) the UN Resolution hereafter.
(1) The first violation of international law concerns the Third Geneva Convention in 1929, which offers rights to prisoners of war (POWs), such that POWs have certain rights to be protected. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rightly said on October 21, 2011 that, "in compliance with international law, the moment that a party to an armed conflict is captured, special procedures should be applied to him or her, including assistance, as well as a ban on killing such a person."
But this right was violated, when Gaddafi was captured alive (as POW) and was then repetitively verbally and physically abused before being shot dead shortly after. As "testified by the grainy mobile phone footage seen by the world of the former leader, bloodied and dazed, being dragged along by NTC fighters" in a gruesome way, "Gaddafi can be heard in one video saying 'God forbids this' several times, as slaps from the crowd [of NTC fighters] rain down on his head," as reported by Rania El Gamal for Reuters on October 23.
Then, he was executed by a young NTC fighter named Sanad al-Sadek al-Ureibi, who claimed that he shot Gaddafi after capture, because he did not want him alive; and other fighters celebrated with him after the summary execution. Worse, his dead body was then publicly displayed in a commercial freezer at a shopping center for more celebration.
This act of Western-backed NTC fighters is not only criminal but also barbaric. The foes of Gaddafi may argue that he deserves this fate, but two wrongs do not make a right (which is a well-known logical fallacy), and the answer to criminality is not more criminality. This blatant violation of the Geneva Convention then led Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, to charge on October 21 that "the manner of the deposed Libyan leader's killing could be a war crime," in a report by RT on October 22.
This criminal act by Western-supported NTC fighters is not just restricted to the case of Gaddafi's death but also be extended to the murder of his son (and others in the group). For instance, Gaddafi's son, Mutassim Gaddafi, was captured alive, together with his father, and, in a video released by NTC fighters, he was shown to be "alive in custody, and even casually smoking a cigarette" in a room (surrounded by armed NTC fighters), but in a few moments later, "other images show him dead with gunshot wounds to his neck and abdomen" in the same room, in a report by RT on October 21.
A technical question here is who should be responsible for this criminal act. There are at least five legal possibilities, namely, (a) the individuals who physically abused him and/or pulled the trigger, like Sanad al-Sadek al-Ureibi and others to be identified, (b) the specific unit of NTC fighters which participated in the capture of Gaddafi and his group, (c) the NTC leadership, (d) NATO forces because of their participation (or complicity) in the attack which led to the capture (and the subsequent murder), and (e) certain leaders of Western powers who have given wholehearted support to NTC from the start to encourage the violence against the regime.
It is not surprising that, at the beginning, the NTC tried to cover up the criminal killing by making up fictional stories and blaming others instead. For instance, NTC leader Mahmoud Jibril, first tried to defend NTC by making a dubious public statement to the press that Gaddafi was killed in a crossfire and was shot by one of his own loyalists. But this cover-up was questioned later, even by a senior member of NTC, Waheed Burshan, who said on October 22: "We found that he was alive and then he was dead. And as far as we can tell, there was no fight" (crossfire).
Even "British MP Jeremy Corbyn said that, as Gaddafi was captured alive, he should have been treated as prisoner of war, interrogated and put on trial," but "it looks that there was an element of mob rule in this, and he was indeed killed in the back of the truck," as reported by RT on October 20.
So now, both "the UN Human Rights Office and Amnesty International are calling for an investigation into Gaddafi's death as it raises concerns over what may be the unlawful killing of a prisoner," as reported by RT on October 22. U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville even said on October 20 that he found it very disturbing when "you see someone who has been captured alive and then you see the same person dead....Summary executions are strictly illegal under any circumstances. It's different if someone is killed in combat....But if something else has happened, if someone is captured and then deliberately killed, then that is a very serious matter," as reported by Stephanie Nebehay for Reuters on October 21.
Unfortunately, because of the Western dominance in international legal bodies, any prosecution of war crimes committed by Western forces and their allies is very unlikely, as "Benjamin Barber, an analyst at a US think tank, does not expect anyone will be held accountable for the colonel's death," as reported by RT on October 22.
Now that Gaddafi was dead, the most tragic thing is that this gruesome murder "will cast doubt on the promises by Libya's new rulers to respect human rights and prevent reprisals. It would also embarrass Western governments which gave their wholehearted backing to the NTC," as reported by Rania El Gamal for Reuters on October 23.
Even British MP Jeremy Corbyn soberly warned that "this really does raise some question marks about the command and discipline of the NTC forces and what Libya is going to be like, not just tomorrow, but next month, next year and the next ten years."
Furthermore, according to Shirin Sagedhi, "the gruesome and public killing of Gaddafi was insulting to the people of Libya and the people of the region, as well as the 'idea that democratic forces would brutally kill someone like that,'" in a report by RT on October 22.
(2) And the second violation of international law concerns the UN Security Council Resolution #1973 in 2011, which set up a "no-fly zone" above Libya but did not authorize NATO forces to carry out an attack on any group who were not harming anyone but were fleeing from being attacked instead. Indeed, it was a French jet which "fired on Gaddafi convoy" when it was trying to flee from the ferocious attack by NTC fighers, as confirmed by French defense chief and reported by RT on October 20.
In this specific case, Gaddafi and his few bodyguards were under attack by NTC fighters when they were fleeing Sirte in a convoy, but NATO helped the NTC fighters and carried out an aerial attack (by a French jet) on Gaddafi's convoy (which led to Gaddafi's capture).
But this violates international law, in regard to the UN Security Council Resolution #1973, since, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday rightly pointed out, "the attack on Gaddafi's convoy was directly at odds with the agreed task of guaranteeing a no-fly zone," because "in this specific case one cannot speak of protecting the lives of civilians, either because the convoy did not attack anyone" and was trying instead to escape from the ferocious attack by NTC fighters, or because there was no civilian around to protect (as an excuse) in the first place.
Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, therefore accused NATO of being "directly involved in the operation to kill the former Libyan leader," since "apparently there were orders that oriented the military servicemen who are in Libya and that directed them to ensure the physical elimination of Gaddafi," as reported by RT on October 21.
Instead of showing respect towards international law, Western powers reacted joyfully to the killing, as shown by the elation of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, when "learned about the death of Muammar Gaddafi via an SMS message" in an interview "filmed by CBS NEWS," exclaimed "Wow!" and thus joyfully said, "We came, we saw, he died!," as reported by Pravda on October 21. And her boss, President Obama, triumphantly announced that, "without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives" of getting rid of Gaddafi and setting up a new regime.
In reaction to this Western joy over the killing, Rogozin thus observed that "the Western elation over the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi could have sadistic grounds," as he thus added: "The faces of the leaders of 'world democracies' are so happy, as if they remembered how they hanged stray cats in basements in their childhoods," as reported by RT on October 21.
In this way, Western mainstream media did not waste time to engage in spinning the whole murder into one of bashing Gaddafi and his historical legacy, without telling the rest of the world about the Western complicity in supporting Gaddafi in all these years of dictatorial rule.
For instance, only some years ago, "former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had no qualms doing business with Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi got cozy with him at a United Nations Summit in Rome," as reported by RT on October 21.
In the case of the U.S., the thoughtful comment by Matthew Rothschild on October 21 is worth mentioning: "The hypocrisy of the U.S. position could hardly be greater. In 2003, the Bush Administration rehabilitated Qaddafi, who became an ally of the United States in the 'war on terror.' In fact, the CIA used Qaddafi's intelligence service to torture detainees that the U.S. sent over to Libya. The CIA 'rendered' eight or nine detainees to Qaddafi's intelligence service, and sent questions along with for the torturers to ask, according to Human Rights Watch, in an interview with Democracy Now. The CIA may even have had agents present during some of the questioning. In 2008, Condoleezza Rice visited Qaddafi in Libya. The next year, Obama shook his hand, and John McCain offered him arms. When it was convenient for Washington to support Qaddafi, it did so. When it was convenient to attack him, it did so. But the Obama administration didn't attack Bahrain when it cracked down on people fighting for democracy against that kingdom. No, Washington even let Saudi Arabia, another kingdom, invade Bahrain to help put down the nonviolent uprising."
Many who do not know the history of modern Libya are not aware of the historical contributions of Muammar Gaddafi to his people and the region, even when he has his own failures. Consider, for instance, the following five important contributions by Gaddafi to his country and the region:
(a) He envisioned "the United States of Africa" and thus contributed to the formation of the African Union. In fact, "the African Union is basically the creation of Muammar Gaddafi, who saw it as a vessel for a stronger Africa," as reported by RT on October 20
(b) He succeeded in holding Libya together, which, according to Shirin Sagedhi, was previously fragmented by different "tribes and ethnicities."
(c) He transformed Libya to have "one of the highest GDPs per capita in Africa and...to provide an extensive level of social security, particularly in the fields of housing and education," in a way that many sub-Saharan countries in Africa could only dream of, in the article on Libya by Wikipedia.
(d) He managed to avoid being dominated by the Soviet Union or the U.S. during the Cold War by masterfully playing the Soviet Union against the U.S. without being a puppet of the former. After the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, he continued to fight against Western domination in the region and thus developed bad blood with Western powers.
(e) He overthrew the Kingdom of Libya in a bloodless military coup against King Idris in 1969 and thus brought Libya into the modern era (from monarchic feudalism).
All these achievements are no small feats for a ruler of a small country with only a few million people and thus have allowed Gaddafi to rule for 42 years.
This does not mean that Gaddafi has no failures. Surely, there are good examples to consider, like his personal vanity, his abuse of power, his ruthlessness, and the like. But who has no failures, for a man with his historical status in the modern era?
But all these achievements are now forgotten, as the West had finished using him, and Western mainstream media is now spinning his historical legacy, in accordance to the dominant rhetoric of Western powers in world media.
Yet, history has its final say: Muammar Gaddafi, in the end, is a historical figure in the modern history of Africa and for that matter, the Middle East, in spite of all his personal faults. And the war crimes by Western powers and their allies help perpetuating the vicious cycle of violence and of suffering in the world.