On October 20th, 2011, Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Qaddafi was killed in his hometown of Surt, a death that many believe marks the end of Libya’s 8-month civil war. NATO airstrikes and National Transitional Council (NTC) forces on the ground forced a convoy transporting Qaddafi to scatter, resulting in his capture and subsequent death. Details surrounding his death vary; initial reports stating that he was killed in a crossfire with NTC forces were contradicted by video and photos showing Qaddafi’s wounds, which forensics experts agreed had been fired execution style at close range.
Though the legality of the death is under investigation by the United Nations, western leaders have largely hailed it as victory for the NTC, and one that places Libya one step closer to reaching its goal of democracy.
United States President Barack Obama stated that the death of the Libyan leader should serve as a warning to other dictators that the world will not tolerate such leaders. “For the region, today’s rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end,” said Obama, who also touted the success of the NATO mission in freeing the Libyan people, adding, “Our leadership at NATO has helped guide our coalition. Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end.”
Other leaders, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressed optimism about Libya’s future in light of Qaddafi’s deposal, but were more cautious in praising the circumstances around the death, which U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay considers worthy of investigation. Said Clinton, “I would strongly support both a U.N. investigation that has been called for and the investigation that the Transitional National Council said they will conduct,” adding that such an investigation would be “part of a process that will give Libya the best possible chance to navigate toward a stable, secure, democratic future.”
On Sunday, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammon expressed his preference for a trial as opposed to the alleged treatment carried out by NTC forces. “It’s certainly not the way we do things. We would have liked to see Gaddafi going on trial to answer for his misdeeds,” said Hammon, who also acknowledged that several of Qaddafi’s terrorist actions, such as the Lockerbie bombing of 1988, had greatly affected the United Kingdom.
At Sweet Briar College, Hammon and Clinton’s views were echoed by international affairs and philosophy double major Allissa Abdelwahed ’14. Abdelwahed views Qaddafi’s death as a “turning point for the Arab Awakening,” but she is also “against celebrating the death of a person.” Said Abdelwahed, “A trial regulated by United Nations would have been more appropriate. Given the fact that the civil war in Libya is over and the state declared liberation, I agree that Libyans will now move towards democracy. It may not be identical to the liberal democratic system of the United States, but it will hopefully be a system of the Libyan people.”
Libya’s democratic future is far from certain, but the death of Qaddafi undoubtedly marks a transition point for the NTC, allowing them to formalize plans for the country’s future. Libya’s Prime Minister Mahm-oud Jibril said, “The first election should take place within a period of eight months, maximum, to constitute a national congress of Libya, some sort of parliament. This national congress would have two tasks – draft a constitution, on which we would have a referendum, and the second to form an interim government to last until the first presidential elections are held.”
For protesters attempting similar coups in Syria and Yemen, the news of Qaddafi inspired an increase in protests, with one banner in Syria reading, “Qaddafi is gone, your turn is coming, Bashar.”
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