As the news of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s death was announced on Thursday, the United States, along with other Western powers, congratulated the Libyan people on reaching the end of Qaddafi’s autocracy. With this, the United States and the United Nations stated that the post-Qaddafi leaders must disclose a detailed account of how Qaddafi had died.
Various media sources and videos from cellphones show Colonel Qaddafi being manhandled and beaten by fighters while some show his corpse with bullet wounds to the head. Therefore, the United Nations and other human rights groups are calling for the interim government to pursue a complete investigation of the Colonel’s body as well as Muatassim’s body, one of Qaddafi’s sons. With this, speculation is also stirring as to whereabouts of Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, who was reportedly captured or wounded on Thursday as well. Rumors are spreading that Seif may have fled to Niger.
Amidst all of the media hype surrounding Qaddafi’s death, more and more videos are surfacing, and residents of Misurata, the city where the bodies were sent for investigation, were allowed to view Colonel Qaddafi’s body strewn on a mattress in a meat locker. The people of Misurata, following news of Qaddafi’s death, showed little concern to how he was killed, especially after they knew firsthand how vicious Qaddafi’s tactics could be.
Should people have been allowed to view Qaddafi’s body, although the interim government knew it would be conducting an investigation of his death? Would it have been different if the bodies were sent elsewhere, keeping in mind that Misurata was happy to know that Qaddafi was gone?
Original article from The New York Times
There’s a very strange politics when it comes to the bodies of political leaders. Why is a more-than-cursory investigation and documentation of Qaddafi’s body and manner of death desirable, but Osama bin Laden was secretly killed and unceremoniously dumped overboard a U.S. Navy vessel [I suppose to be fair, the intent was to be in accord with Muslim tradition]? We have a slew of photos and video of the former’s death; a dearth of media regarding the latter’s. Perhaps falling in between is the public trial and final execution of Saddam Hussein. And then we have oddities like the near-immediate institutional decision to preserve Lenin’s body or the repeated investigations into John F. Kennedy’s death. I wonder if the UN request indicates an impetus to construct a kind of universal respect for the high-ranking dead.
The sanctity of death is a funny thing, especially when it comes to people that are hated leaders that are responsible for death and torture. While it does seem disrespectful and kind of disgusting to allow the public to view his beaten body in a meat locker, I can also see how the citizens would want to go see it and celebrate his death. In the minds of ordinary citizens there is a big difference between the death of a beloved family member and a despised political leader. However, no matter how hated it is important that there be an investigation into how he was killed. The UN does not want to seem to support human rights violations, even if it the possible violation is the murder of a leader who’s death is so greatly celebrated.
I would agree that bin Laden, Qaddafi, and Hussein all fall within the category of political leaders whose deaths were important to “showcase” to their countries and across the world. They were all pursued in some way with great efforts so as to eliminate their oppressive and destructive reigns. However, what shocks me the most still is the graphic nature of the portrayals of their deaths, especially Qaddafi’s death. Is the international audience so skeptical of “breaking news” now? Put another way, do we all sit here, cross our arms, and say, “I’ll believe it when I see it?” Understandably, there is plenty of history behind the government (and even the media at times) lying and manipulating the facts. Have we all become so skeptical of the information our government and media put forth so as to warrant media frenzies and up-close-and-personal documentation of these high-profile deaths? Have we stopped trusting them?
I was not comfortable with the treatment of Qaddafi’s body after his capture. Due the violent and graphic nature of his death, I believe that constant barrage of videos and pictures were of relatively little merit compared to the associated harmful effect. To be clear, I do not believe in censoring those who wish to publish such media. Rather, if I was in the position to publish, I would chose not to do so.
The treatment of Osama Bin Laden’s body was much more in accord with what I believe our some of the shared values of the international community. In a world of DNA, and advanced identification techniques, excessively violent pictures seem to be of little evidentiary value in proving the death of a public official. Conspiracy theorists will always doubt what the government says. We should not sacrifice our values for the satisfaction of an unreasonable few.
Calling for an investigation by the rebel forces will certainly not lead to any real answers about the circumstances leading to Gadaffi’s death. Does the world really think that the Libyan rebels are just going to come out and admit that they executed him, if that is in fact what occurred? It would be in their best interests to cover up any evidence of an execution and say he died in battle in order to keep the world from meddling in Libyan affairs. If evidence surfaced that the rebels had executed Gadaffi, it might lead the world community to believe that the new Libya is no better than the old and encourage the world to become more involved in Libyan affairs. While more world involvement in Libyan affairs might be best, certainly most Libyan leaders would rather the world stay out and let Libya organize their new government on their own. The circumstances surrounding Gadaffi’s death and the treatment of his body lead me to question whether the new Libya will indeed be a free Libya, or simply the replacement of one totalitarian regime for another.