Thursday, 20 October 2011

Death of a Dictator

Moammer al-Gaddafi is dead. Trapped near his hometown of Sirte by a combination of NATO drones and Libyan NTC fighters, a storm drain was his final refuge as his bodyguards fought to the death around him. Then, filmed as ever these days by mobile phone cameras, he was dragged to a truck, pleading for his life and brutalised to death. His bloodied corpse was then dragged around, still filmed, before being taken to a hospital in Misrata for crowds to come and stare, and photograph a bit more.

The photographs and video footage have been transmitted around the world already - shown on websites, TV channels, newspapers and even described in some detail on the radio. And as the world has gawped and Libyans celebrated, western leaders like Obama, Cameron and Clinton have hailed the moment, declaring their pride.

Gaddafi's regime was a harsh one, no doubt, although many others are worse and to the end the Leader clearly retained the loyalty of many of his compatriots. Thousands died or were tortured in his prisons; his agents killed his opponents at home and abroad (although it remains exceedingly unlikely that he had anything to do with the Lockerbie bombing); and he was one of the few African leaders to launch an invasion of a neighbouring state - attacking Chad four times in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He showed little mercy for sure.

And yet, in these final moments, bloodied and humiliated, pleading for his life in front of the cameras, the overwhelming sense was that here was a small, frightened and helpless old man, a human being like all the rest of us, deluded perhaps by his long years in power, but flesh and blood still. In the hands of his captors, he was no longer a threat to anyone. In the frenzy of the moment, after years of persecution, it is perhaps unsurprising that those who seized him killed him. But it does not make it right - and it certainly is nothing for David Cameron to feel proud about, or for Hilary Clinton to breathe a sigh of relief as she claims she did.

No international pariah after all...
These are the same people who happily did business with Gadaffi right up until the uprising against him began., who bought his oil and sold him his weapons and, in Britain's case, trained his security services. While it does seem to stretch incredulity given today's heated incidents to suggest any conspiracy to kill Gadaffi, Clinton's relief may well be as much to do with being spared the embarrassment of a trial and the evidence that would have come out about the West's involvement with the old regime as anything to do with an end to the fighting.

And, yet again, the western media have outdone themselves in lurid excess - the graphic pictures of Gadaffi's final minutes should make any vaguely compassionate person retch: and while in a country as inured to state propaganda as Libya has been, showing his body may serve some purpose in convincing the population that he really is gone, it raises yet more questions about how the international media use the now so readily available means of recording and transmitting the most gruesome and humiliating images to sell copy.

When Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were killed by Italian partisans in April 1945, most newspapers did not print the now infamous photograph of their dead bodies hanging upside down at a petrol station in Milan - that Il Duce's trousers were firmly buckled on and Petacci's skirt carefully pinned up was surrealistically tasteful in comparison to today's Saharan gore-fest. Even as late as 1989, when Ceaucescu was executed by a hastily organised firing squad as he tried to flee Romania, the cameras turned away as he and his wife were shot. But perhaps it was Saddam Hussein's execution in 2006 that showed at once the power of mobile technology - an initial, official video of him walking to the scaffold in apparent calm was soon superseded by several mobile captures of a baying mob remonstrating with him as he tried to pray, and then more of his body falling through the trap door and then his corpse in the hospital. of course, the media just couldn't resist...

That things went even further today with Gaddafi should perhaps be no surprise and it would without question be wrong to ban footage - but the use of frame by frame images of his treatment by his captors on tabloid websites is little more than publishing torture porn to gain an audience. Saw 7 or 8 would struggle to compete with the Daily Mail's series of snuff photos.

More will mourn Gaddafi's passing than the West will ever admit to: his regime was violent and repressive, but it was not without its supporters and in the context of the Maghreb, his government led the way in provision of free health and education services, massively reducing illiteracy rates, and greatly improved the position of women and black Africans in a traditionally patriarchal, Arab society. Many Libyans were sent to the West for their higher education - I recall meeting several at both Glasgow University and Bradford University, all of them proud of their nation's achievements and complimentary of their Leader even in situations where they had no need to be. That, in time, Gaddafi so perverted the dreams of his popular revolution that he brutalised his nation is the truly enduring tragedy for Libya - because today, the violent men who have replaced him, including their western sponsors, by their eager celebration of his killing augur no better future at all for the people of Gaddafi's battered nation.

No page has been turned, no new chapter begun. There is nothing to be proud of - no refreshing rain falls on the deserts of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica tonight; only spilled blood mixes in the Saharan sands, a legacy of the hubris that has been and an omen of the hubris still to come.
In better times: the Libyan Leader with the G8 Heads of State, including his nemesis, President Sarkozy of France


  1. What evidence, other than the buck naked propaganda of the Zionist controlled media, exists that "Thousands died or were tortured in his [Gadafi's] prisons; his agents killed his opponents at home and abroad?"

  2. The evidence comes from a variety of sources, plenty of them quite free of the western media:
    Try this anti-war site:

    There is the video evidence of torture chambers as well as the testimony of many Libyans:

    Then there were the 1,200 prisoners massacred in the Abu Salim jail in 1996, highlighted by Human Rights Watch - even the regime partially admitted to this in 2009 when Saif al-Islam said they would investigate what had happened (no outcome transpired)

    Gaddafi's story is tragically mixed between lofty aspirations and some genuine social progress in the early days with a long, slow slide into a paranoid dictatorship and family-run kleptocracy. The West's ambivalent role has been disgraceful, both in selling him weapons and the likes of the SAS training his special forces (and in return he assisted US renditions to Guantanamo). And as the blog states, the events of yesterday - his death and the accompanying triumphalism - are inexcusable. Nor should NATO have got involved in the civil war.

    But none of that excuses his own violent excesses, and his progressive rhetoric over the years, while happily taking the business of multinational oil companies, amply demonstrates Gaddafi's own hypocrisy.