Don’t Judge The Libyan People For Killing Gaddafi

Should we be outraged over the manner in which Muammar Gaddafi died? I'm not losing any sleep over it.

Jonathan Turley is seemingly outraged over the world’s reaction to the videos depicting the events that led to the death of Muammar Gaddafi:

What I find rather disconcerting is the treatment of this video by the media, which covered the “joy” and “celebration” of the event while ignoring the shocking abuse of a wounded man and then the parading and stripping of this corpse. We were appalled when militants paraded the bodies of Americans in Somalia and Iraq. Yet, when it is someone we hate, it barely draws mention while newspapers taunt the dead man as being pulled “from a stinking drain.”

Following the killing, President Obama took to the air to herald the victory and a “future . . . of dignity.”

We long denounced Gadhafi on this blog. However, the treatment of Gadhafi below should shock the conscience. Only this morning did I see a brief story on CNN interviewing a man on how he felt about the way Gadhafi died. The thrust however was not about the abuse but the lost opportunity of a trial.

Instead of addressing the abuse of a wounded man and later a corpse, CNN and other outlets simply warned about graphic images and focused on Libyans firing weapons (including heavy machine guns) into the air (a moronic form of celebration that led to the wounding of various civilians).


This video should shock the conscience and the story should be not the celebration but the crime depicted in this video.

As some kind of abstract level, I suppose that Turley has a point. In a just world, Gaddafi would have been captured and put on trial for his four decades of crimes against the people of Libya and the people of the world, much as Saddam Hussein was when he was finally captured hiding out in a hole in the ground. He would have had legal representation and he would have been forced to sit in a courtroom somewhere and listen to the tales of what he did and the pain and misery he caused. Then, he would have been put to death.

Perhaps that would have been the idea outcome, but we do not live in an ideal world. Gaddaffi was caught trying to escape from the fall of Sirte, where he had apparently been hiding since disappearing from Tripoli in August, apparently with the intention of continuing his guerrilla campaign from some other redoubt in Libya.  Previously, he had said repeatedly that he intended to die on Libyan soil rather than surrendering, thus making the possibility of surrender pretty much non-existent. More importantly, he was captured in the middle of a civil war in a country that hasn’t known anything resembling the Rule Of Law for four decades. Expecting the people of Libya to live up to the legal standards of George Washington University Law School strikes me as pretty unrealistic.

It strikes me that Turley is likely pretty much alone in his reaction to the death of Gaddafi, even liberal groups like the Center for American Progress are cheering it:

Moammar Qaddafi’s demise today represents a measure of justice for the countless individuals he and his regime terrorized in Libya and around the world during his 40-year rule. … His death creates hope for a truly new Libya that can be responsive to its people and responsible in the world.

Of course, it’s interesting to note that CAP’s reaction to the death of Saddam Hussein, which occurred after a trial in which he was represented by counsel, was quite different. Back then, they approvingly quoted a statement by Tom Brokaw in which he compared Hussein’s hanging to a the worst excesses of the Old West. So according to CAP, beating a dictator to death in the street is okay, executing him after a trial isn’t.

Patrick at Popehat reacts to the video quite differently from Turley:

That’s a lynching. A well-deserved lynching, to be sure. But it evokes none of the tut-tutting of frontier justice, of barbarism, of western disdain for savages asthey take their revenge on the future martyr. Instead, we get Hillary Clinton cracking a joke so lame it would have been rejected by the writing team on an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie.  (They’d have given it to Steven Seagal.)

As citizens of a democratic republic, we should all cheer when a tyrant gets his just deserts.  So I’ll join the Center for American Progress in celebrating this long delayed justice, and congratulate them on their change of heart.

And in years to come I’ll look forward to celebrating the deaths of Kim Jong Il and Bashar Assad with them.  Regardless of who occupies the White House.

Earlier today, I compared Gaddafi’s death to the deaths of Benito Mussolini in the waning months of World War II and Nicolae Ceausescu during the Romanian Revolution in December 1989. They were quick, brutal, and nasty deaths. But they were also entirely understandable, as is Gaddafi’s. After 40 years of brutal dictatorship and a civil war in which tens of thousands of people are believed to have died, it’s difficult to expect the Libyan people to be calm and collected when the man who had been brutalizing them for so long is finally in their grasp. The phrase Sic Semper Tyrannis comes to mind. It’s the State Motto of Virginia, and it means thus always to tyrants. The rage against a brutal dictator is primal, and it’s totally justified. From a distance, we can tut-tut about the violence of actions like this, but until you’ve walked in the shoes of a person who’s been ruled by one of these men, I don’t think it’s really possible to understand the way they feel. I’m not going to judge them, and I’m not going to mourn for Muammar Gaddafi.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    I think there are practical benefits to a show trial (which is what it would be), so long as his execution was certain. Turley, as always, is all hyperbole and little substance.

    B/W not a big fan of Sic Semper Tyrannis

  2. ponce says:

    Turley, as always, is all hyperbole and little substance.

    He is a reliable supplier of straw men to the blogosphere, though, as this post shows.

    Doug is really scraping the bottom of the barrel on quotes about Libya today.

  3. John Peabody says:

    Waxing rhapsodic, Doug? Nice. You have good thoughts.

  4. TexMac says:

    I love how you’ve imputed the killing to “the Libyan People” /s

  5. @TexMac:

    It’s pretty clear that Gaddafi was alive after his convoy was hit by allied air assets.

  6. mantis says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It’s pretty clear that Gaddafi was alive after his convoy was hit by allied air assets.

    I’m guessing his point is that some Libyans killed Gaddafi, not the Libyan people as a whole.

  7. anjin-san says:

    Live by the sword, die by the sword. End of story.

  8. TexMac says:

    I agree. However, that bloodthirsty rabble was not “the Libyan People.” There are over 6 million people who live in Libya. While I have no doubt Gaddafi was thoroughly hated by almost everyone, there is actually one murderer in that pack. That is a fact.

  9. John Burgess says:

    The Libyans missed a chance to step up from the tribal brutalities that Qaddafi continued under the guise of government. For that, I’m a bit sad. They blew a great opportunity. But that’s pretty much par for the course in the Arab world… they have no idea of PR.

    As far as his death goes, though, I’m with Doug. Mobs will have their way whether their anger is just or not. When it reaches a point where the mob is running things, civilized rules go out the window.

  10. John,

    I get what your saying, but in the midst of a revolution the fate of the dictator is largely beyond anyone’s control

  11. For all the rhetoric in America that involves calling a politician a “tyrant”, “dictator”, “communist”, “fascist”, etc., Americans nowadays have absolutely no understanding of what it is like to live under a dictator and cannot possible understand the rage that it creates in people. And Americans don’t understand the violence that is a byproduct of that rage when a dictator’s power is lost and the inevitable bloodshed starts.

    And for a country that was founded on the overthrow of a government and the characterized of Parliament and the King as a tyrant, that’s pretty damn ironic.

  12. flataffect says:

    The only thing that unnerved me was the guy braying “Allah-hu-Akbar” over and over. It really brought home how medieval some of these societies really are. On the other hand, we’re not that far from lynch mobs with a lot less cause in this country.

    I don’t blame them for killing him, but “giving the glory to God” seemed kind of creepy. Sort of like Nazis parading in Skokie or a Ku Klux Klan rally.

  13. Kit says:

    I cannot speak to what happened to Gaddafi, but men who live lives so far beyond the bounds of justice often demand of us exceptional ends. Take bin Laden, for example. I’m a strong believer in the rule of law, and squarely against the death penalty, so I certainly questioned his treatment when I first learned of his death. And yet upon reflection I came to see it as a wise judgement. A show trial would have ripped this country apart while serving as a rallying point for terrorists, perhaps for generations to come. An ignoble disposal with nothing to serve as a memorial took the wind out of our enemies’ sails and saved us from our own worst tendencies. What happened to Gaddafi the man matters very little in the bigger scheme; I just hope that Libya got what it needed out of that lynching because that brutal chapter is now closed.

  14. G.A>Phillips says:

    I don’t blame them for killing him, but “giving the glory to God” seemed kind of creepy.

    He was saying god is greater and Allah is not God. Plus Allah commands you to kill in his name and for his glory. So this Muslim was just doing what he knows….

  15. Wayne says:

    Re “Expecting the people of Libya to live up to the legal standards of George Washington University Law School strikes me as pretty unrealistic.”

    That can be said about most of those conflicts. It is just amazing on “when” some people condemn low standards and when they excuse it. The LRA actions were condemn in a recent post. They don’t do anything that other groups in the area don’t do. It would be unrealistic to expect them to act at a higher standard than others in area do but many do expect them to. Perhaps it has to do with more propaganda than real moral outrage.

    I have no issue of condemning peoples’ action and\or understanding they live in a different world than we do. However we should be consistent. I have little doubt if Bush was President that the MSM would react differently.