One of the vivid images of my childhood is the death of Mussolini. Growing up in a journalism family, I followed politics and the war. Then suddenly on page one of every paper were Benito Mussolini and his mistress, plus five other corpses, strung up-side- down by their feet, arms dangling, shirts hanging down or gone, bodies bloody with bullet holes, while another seven corpses were sprawled out on the pavement around them. Crowds, delighted or just curious, including American troops, milled around in Piazzale Loreto of Milan.
It was April 29, 1945, and Il Duce and Clara had been captured in a convoy escaping the city. At first the Liberation Committee, mostly communists, gave orders that no one was to be shot, even if they tried to escape; but then they changed their minds, took the couple aside saying they were helping them escape, then killed them. A few days later, Adolph Hitler, when he heard the news, vowed he would not suffer that humiliation. So he had himself and his wife commit suicide.
The similarities to the death of Mommoar Gadaffi and his son are striking: the hated dictator; the flight and apprehension; the anarchy among his opponents; the brutal, lawless finish; and the cold-blooded public display of the dead bodies; and the media reports of the big story. The singular difference is that today the killers all carried cell phones and recorded the prey’s capture, beating, bleeding, collapse, pleading, two-thirds naked corpse with bullet holes in the torso and skull, with dozens clustered around recording Gaddafi’s humiliation, down to his final burial, wrapped in a white sheet, face protruding, mouth open, in a cheap wooden box.
When his captors flushed him out of the drain pipe where he was hiding, his captors, from a neighboring city, taunted him: “You dog. This is Misurata. Misurata captured you.” One spat in his face.
“Have pity! Don’t hit me!” Gaddafi cried.
“Now you know pity!” one man answered.
They beat him, splayed across the hood of jeep and on the ground, then put him in an ambulance headed for Misurata. Somewhere in the middle of this he got two bullets in the head.
To kill a prisoner of war is a war crime and the United Nations has called for an inquiry. Abdel Jibril, interim prime minister, has promised an investigation, but without much enthusiasm. Unfortunately, Gaddafi rule was so centered on his own power and erratic personality that Libya was never unified by a network of participatory democratic institutions. The disorganized Transitional National Council has not put together a process that can efficiently investigate and prosecute crimes; and they have three murder cases before them: In August, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, the rebels’ top commander, killed in Benghazi with two of his aides; dozens massacred, some with hands tied, at the Mahari Hotel in Surt, most likely by rebel troops; and Gaddafi himself.
A Washington Post story reports that a “growing number of revolutionaries” feel let down by their new government, which is neither efficient, responsive, nor transparent, and are planning to leave Libya. For example, they “would like a breakdown of the money coming to Libya from oil revenue, international aid, and overseas assets, and plans for how it will be spent.”
Meanwhile the Obama administration is collecting kudos for its successful diplomacy in “leading from behind,” helping the rebels win without sending America troops to fight and die. Unfortunately, the United States is not in a strong moral position to urge the new Libyan government to follow due process of law and take responsibility for its murders.
Raymond A. Schroth