08 November 2011


I am writing this post on the bus in one of my many surplus journals. You might wonder why I have so many: I certain do. I usually blame it on a group of friends who give me them faster than I can use them up. This post will be transferred to the web sometime this evening, and if I'm feeling terribly obnoxious, I'll upload this prelude as well just to mess with you.


For the past few weeks, I have been conducting an informal survey of my friends and acquaintances concerning the recent death of Libya's Colonel Moammar Gaddafi. More specifically, I have been straw polling them on their opinions about the transitionary government's handling of Gaddafi's old government and supporters. For information, follow these links to the BBC.

The reason behind this line of questioning was two-fold. First, I needed to remind myself with whom it was safe to discuss politics (or entertaining, as an alternative), and to prepare for this post. If I didn't ask you and you feel terribly left out, just jump down to the comments and raise your voice - don't forget to leave your opinion. Do you see what I just did there? If you did, comment.

Here are the facts, as I understand them. Many officials within the late Colonel Gaddafi's government, including his son Mutassim and defense secretary Abu Bakr Younes died under murky circumstances, often connected with capture by the rebels. Gaddafi himself was seen, living, in a viral video taken just after his capture, but was reported deceased later that day. Since August, sites filled with the remains of mass murders against Gaddafi supporters have been found throughout the country. The provisional government currently has one of his ministers and his personal driver in custody, awaiting trial.

When conversing with these friends, I got a wide display of reactions. There were a few "They totally got what they paid for! It's freaking awesome that they're dead;" quite a lot of "that's really for the Libyans to decide;" a few "It wasn't ideal but they deserved it;" and one "should I know that name?"

Far and away the most interesting answer was from a new friend from school. This friend, who, in my notes was given the blog name River because it amused me at the time and he was important enough to this post to deserve a name, said something along the lines of this.

"It wasn't ideal, but then again, I"m not sure what else they could have done. It doesn't really set a good foundation for their government, especially if they want to claim to be a democracy."

I found this sentiment interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that he put into words something that I'd been unable to vocalize for a while.

I am going to totally ignore the fact that the Libyan militia is not disbanding for fear that politicians will disappoint yet again. While tangentially related to this topic, I'm not here to talk about keeping politicians honest. As an American, I am hardly one to talk.

The way the provisional Libyan government handled the transfer of power had bothered me ever since I learned of Gaddafi's demise. I'm going to make a logical leap here that you might not follow at first.

At the end of World War Two (observe how very carefully I avoid the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy) , the Allies ended up capturing a bunch of senior Nazi officials who needed to be held responsible for the atrocities that some of them helped commit. I say "some of them" because not all of them were responsible for the Final Solution and it's rather detrimental effects.

The Allies selected the US attorney General, and later Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson to draw a code governing the trial that would ensure all accused men really received justice, not revenge. How this man managed to draw a code that avoided both the trap of post facto law and stopped the Nazis from merely hiding behind "I followed orders and nothing more" is a really heroic story, but one for another time. My point in bringing this up is to point to an historical example where people were out for blood but still managed to do the right thing -- namely, extend justice to oppressors.

Do you see the link?

Now, especially considering my debate case from last year (self-determination ring a bell, anyone?), I will firmly uphold the Libyan provisional government's right to deal with law breakers under and through the law. However, what bothered me was a lack of trial for Gaddafi and his leaders. Yes, they may have deserved to die, but they also deserved to have charges formally brought against them and the opportunity to defend themselves from those charges.

Is it really such a good foundation for a democracy to rest upon the murdered (note: not executed) bones of the previous government? I would say that no, no it is not. I think my friend really got it, but I don't know what else they could have done. In this instance, I merely point an accusatory finger and offer no solution.

There was another aspect of these past few weeks that disturbed me greatly. It was the opinions of my peers regarding this particular subject. To quote one of the first people I asked and who shall go unnamed because I agree with Thumper: "Good riddance. He and they were all evil men and the earth is better off without them. They knew what they were doing, so I applaud the fighters for doing away with them. Sic Semper Tyrannus."

Friends, this statement should make you cringe inside. America has long held a light of sorts regarding the importance of criminal trials and the idea of "innocent until proven guilty." While in practice, we have been known to fall short, the fact remains that these are our ideals, and unlike Groucho Marx, we have no others. We should be sticking to the values we hold dear.

I was deeply, deeply disturbed to hear so many of my friends express themselves in support of a regime that does not even bother with a kangaroo court and simply skips to the bit about executions.

What does it say of Americans if we are so willing to abandon the ideals of justice and support mere, base revenge? And please don't give me the real politik answer and tell me that it's in America's best long term interests to prostitute her ideals for a little support in Northern Africa. We did nothing to stop this from happening.

While there is a valid argument to be made that United States forces and weaponry should not have been deployed in Libya in the first place, the fact remains that NATO was there. NATO was originally founded to protect Western Europe and its values, and last time I checked, these values included the right to a fair trial.

Why do we love stories about Robin Hood? He was a thief who stole from people. He was no mere thief, though, because he did the right thing. While he stole from wealthy people, he returned the money to the people who originally possessed it.

The people of Libya, especially Eastern Libya, rebelled because their government was not upholding justice. Gaddafi executed his political opponents en masse, and other basic freedoms were denied to the people. Be this as it may, the way the rebels dealt with the government, once overthrown, was no better than the previous administration. A democracy built upon that foundation cannot stand for long, nor will one whose citizens so openly approve of state-sponsored revenge.

There you have it: my rant for the week. I'd love to hear any and all feedback on this. 


  1. Reminds me of this article by Hitchens:


  2. Super funny. Before I ever saw this, I wrote a rant about America rants last night. Now I'm self-conscious about posting it. But I think I will, anyway, because you're awesome enough to hack it.

    But, for the record, I completely agree with you analysis and conclusion here.

    Nonetheless, I have this stubborn little, "Justice should be done, with or without the law" bone that just won't go away. It rarely feels right for someone to die. I'm not a ...terribly.... violent person. Therefor, if, on a rare occasion, it DOES feel right, I don't really know what to do with myself other than feel the little rebel soldier inside of me dancing.

    However, that doesn't mean that internal dancing rebel soldiers should be listened to. Governments are tricky in that they can't act upon TRUTH, they have to act upon FACTS.

    I have a few years to go before I can be a chief justice, okay?

  3. Post the rant anyways - I will laugh and be rather amused.

    Oh, I don't disagree that it feels ever so satisfying that he no longer walks the earth. But I think it's fallacious to say that Gaddafi and his government would have avoided justice through a trial. In fact, more justice would have been done because his guilt would have been so irrevocably exposed to the world that the ensuing execution would leave no doubt as to his guilt. As it is, there are probably still some Libyan loyalists who feel like Gaddafi was an amazing person and didn't deserve to die.