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Gaddafi’s Death: Mission Accomplished!

Preeti Nalwa was Research Intern at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • October 29, 2011

    With Gaddafi’s execution, Libya’s civilians stand liberated today, liberated from 42 years of Gaddafi’s tyrannical rule which quizzically had kept the 2000 odd Libyan tribes united under his authoritarian regime for so long. The Libyans are indebted to the interim Transitional National Council (TNC) for making the dawn of a new democratic era possible even though their nightmare lasted for about seven months. They would be equally, if not far more, indebted to the US and NATO for delivering them from the murderous brutality of Qaddafi’s regime, rapacious atrocities inflicted upon them by him in February 2011 and for averting their impending massacre by launching the ‘humanitarian intervention’. Notwithstanding that the ‘intervention’ created a situation of war and a situation of humanitarian emergency with thousands of Libyans fleeing the cities to escape the NATO strikes resulting in the internal displacement of 243,000 Libyans and about 650,000 fleeing the country, the military intervention was indispensable and the peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis was impossible.

    For this dawn of a new era, “a new beginning for Libya – a future in which the people of Libya can determine their own destiny, free from violence and oppression,”1 the Libyans also tolerated the onslaught of everyday NATO bombing. In late March, NATO had launched the mission called “Unified Protector” and since then NATO fighter jets have flown more than 26,000 sorties over Libya and made more than 9,600 strikes against military targets of the Qaddafi regime. The civilians were also brave to have faced the pounding of 114 Tomahawk missiles2 that were let loose on March 19, 2011 on their cities to destroy Libya’s air defence network. They also did not mind that on July 30, 2011 NATO bombed three Tripoli TV towers at the Libyan Broadcasting Authority, killing three journalists/technicians and wounding 15 others. It is also not of much consequence that in early October the hospital in Sirte was bombed repeatedly by NATO and TNC forces. Any repercussions for the destruction and accidental deaths of civilians by NATO strikes had been covered by the unwritten clause of victor’s justice. On the other hand, a clause was inserted into Resolution 1973 protecting any UN troops who may yet be deployed in the country, under whatever mandate, from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC)3 . However, in war, such inconveniences are supposed to be borne for the good future, even if it appears distant.The fact that there are still hundreds of portable surface to air missiles4 in Libya and that the media is already abuzz with stories of atrocities, massacres and rampant executions being conducted by the so-called ‘revolutionary forces’ of the TNC5 should not be worrisome either because transitions are hardly peaceful especially transitions from tribal societies to democracy as witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The fear of civil war has been eliminated because the interim leader, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), has already requested NATO to stay until the end of the year to repel or allay attacks or possible insurgency by the remaining Gaddafi loyalists both within Libya and by those hiding in neighbouring countries, although NATO had decided to terminate its mission and lift the no-fly zone by October 31, 2011. That would also take care of not only the unruly, trigger-happy militias of the NTC high on newly acquired sophisticated weapons and which celebrated the killing of Gaddafi by indulging in arbitrary looting and going on a killing rampage, but also the scores of tribal leaders from eastern Libya who put together a manifesto issued by the Libyan Tribal Council on July 26, 2011 which proclaimed that “By this letter to the extraordinary African Summit, convening in Addis Ababa, the notables of the eastern tribes of the Great Jamahiriya confirm their complete rejection of what is called the Transitional Council in Benghazi which hasn’t been nominated nor elected by Tribal representatives but rather imposed by NATO.”6

    As far as the shattered civic infrastructure is concerned, the international community will work together to contribute aid, participate in reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Libyan society as part of their moral international responsibility while powerful coteries will win profitable contracts for communication equipment and aerial intelligence, arms deals, defence sector reforms, lucrative oil contracts and monopolistic rights for its extraction and trade. In all this mayhem and insecurity, the Western allies of the unelected TNC, with zero democratic credibility, have indeed ensured the security of one prime element – Libya’s oil.

    On October 20, 2011 Gaddafi was captured alive. And, cruel and degrading treatment was meted out to him, his personal dignity was outraged and the bleeding, injured Gaddafi was humiliated and executed without any judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court that affords all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. This job could have been undertaken by The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) but Gaddafi was not handed over to the ICC despite the fact that on June 27, 2011 arrest warrants for Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, his son Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and the national head of his military intelligence, Abdullah Alsenussi, were issued by the ICC. Since he was captured alive, Gaddafi was entitled to the rights under the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 75 U.N.T.S. 135. However, recognizing this right would have led to the troublesome question of whether ‘humanitarian intervention’ can actually be described as a state of war.

    The easier conclusion would be that Gaddafi was rather best killed. It would save money for the cash-strapped ICC. The UNSC never offered to pay for the investigation or any ensuing trial. Anyway, the UNSC’s referral of Libya to the ICC on February 26, 2011 was more in the nature of a pre-meditated political move rather than an action to advance international justice. Three members of the UNSC - the US, China and Russia - are not signatories to the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statue, nor is Libya a state party to the ICC. The arrest warrant by the ICC was to close the option of any compromise, political negotiation or exile for Gaddafi. His convenient killing unfortunately deprived the ICC of an opportunity to prove its relevance as an independent institution of international law and justice created primarily to deal with crimes relating to genocide.

    The final verdict is: one monarch less is good for the international community, the mission has been accomplished and whatever else is happening in Libya is just mundane.

    • 1. Speech by British PM David Cameron at the London Conference for Libya held on March 29, 2011, available at
    • 2. Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, told reporters that the Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from one British submarine (the Westminster), two American destroyers (USS Barry and USS Stout) and three US submarines (USS Providence, USS Scranton and USS Florida).
    • 3. Simon Jennings (2011). “Playing Politics With the ICC”, Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), March 8, 2011, available at
    • 4. These are called Man-Portable Air Defence Systems, or MANPADS. Libya was believed to have about 20,000 of the missiles in its arsenals before the civil war began in March and most of them have gone missing.
    • 5. Kareem Fahim and Adam Nossiter (2011). “A Massacre left uninvestigated in Libya”, International Herald Tribune, October 26, 2011, p. 5.
    • 6. Franklin Lamb (2011). “End Game For Benghazi Rebels As Libyan Tribes Prepare To Weigh In?”, Eurasia Review, August 2, 2011.