“The death of a devil”

The BBC reports tonight that the death of Gaddafi completes the Libyan revolution.  Yet the images it showed on the 10 o clock news will no doubt add questions to the nature of that revolution. 

The commentary accompanying the images clarified that Gaddafi was obviously alive when he was captured.  Earlier reports said he was armed and killed in a gunfight.  The images showed Gaddafi bloodied in a way that is consistent with this earlier report and if he died in custody because of the injuries he sustained in combat then so be it.  But then the images suggest that the fighters who captured Gaddafi were hardly aware of what the Geneva Conventions say about the treatment of the injured. And if what Newsnight suggests turns out to be right, that Gaddafi was “finished off” while in custody with a bullet to the head, then this is not a good sign.  Are we sure the NTC will protect rights and abide by the rule of law?  Don’t forget that part of the rationale for international intervention was to protect civilians and to bring Gaddafi to justice, preferably in Libya; if not there then definitely at the ICC.  If his death proves to be an extrajudicial execution rather than the killing of a combatant in armed conflict then it adds to the concern about the direction the Arab spring is taking. 

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that a revolution can be perfect; and while there are questions about the manner in which it took place I don’t regret the opportunity that Gaddafi’s passing now offers Libya and the region.  But what disappointed me was the way Prime Minister Cameron almost jokingly referred to “celebrating the death of a devil”.  Even the NTC recognises the potential problems surrounding Gaddafi’s death.  It suggests that Gaddafi was killed in ‘crossfire’ and promise an investigation into what happened. All Cameron could offer was the kind of moralism that seemingly brushes aside the legal norms that protect the principles Britain is fighting for.  He had been careful up to that moment not to appear triumphalist.  It may have been an off the cuff remark yet it strikes me as inappropriate.  But then in a week where we’ve heard stories about the links between the government and American neocons maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

About Jason Ralph

Jason Ralph, Professor of International Relations, University of Leeds
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2 Responses to “The death of a devil”

  1. Jack Holland says:

    Jason, thanks for blogging. My quick initial thoughts, before I return to the Email Inbox…

    I was thinking about the OBL comparisons even before Cameron’s turn of phrase last night. When I blogged about OBL’s killing, I was criticised for choosing the title ‘Celebrating the Death of Evil’ (which I was told wasn’t very specific, or media friendly! Here: http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2011/05/03/celebrating-the-death-of-evil-dr-jack-holland/). So, it was funny to hear DC use a similar turn of phrase last night; it reminded me of the importance of framing and identity, as well as the that a comparison between the deaths of OBL and MG is possible and perhaps useful.

    I think there are a number of questions that can be asked here:
    – How similar are OBL and MG’s deaths?
    – How legal/illegal are both deaths? Does it matter if ‘local forces’ kill an enemy, or if it’s carried out by American/coalition troops? Does the NATO role in the killing (French airstrikes on vehicles carrying his closest and final supporters) equate to complicity or equal ‘guilt’ in MG’s death?
    – Why are the general public (in the UK at least) slower to condemn MG’s killing than they were OBL’s? There’s no sign of Martin Luther King quotes going viral this time… Is it because Libyans are perceived to have killed MG? Is it because of DC’s argument that MG is guilty of murder in the UK?

    While there are obvious differences between the two killings (e.g. the location of OBL’s death and a unilateral US decision), my concern is that the Libyan model will be read as the correct application of the original Afghan model: indigenous forces, supported by overwhelming air power (and Special Forces), killing their hated leader. In short, I’m concerned about the impact of framing MG’s demise as ‘a good death’… a concern I suspect you might share?


  2. Jack Holland says:

    Reports this morning that he was ‘killed in crossfire’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15397812

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