Diary, Curious News

The Last Days of a Dictator

22 October 2011

image The last days of a dictator are not particularly fun. Hitler committed suicide in 1945 when the Russians were close to his underground bunker in Berlin. Saddam Hussein loved life too much and come out of a hole in the ground when guns had surrounded him.  I am not sure about Qaddafi’s attitude toward his own life.  Did he remain defiant until the end or were his captors simply more aggressive then the soldiers who found Saddam? Putting the body of a killed dictator in the freezer of a grocery store strikes me as a novel way to preserve it for a few days. People could come and look at the brutal end. Unfortunately, these pictures will not deter other would-be dictators because at the core they are not guided by reason but by delusion.

In His Last Days, Qaddafi Wearied of Fugitive’s Life  By KAREEM FAHIM (NY Times)
MISURATA, Libya—After 42 years of absolute power in Libya, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi spent his last days hovering between defiance and delusion, surviving on rice and pasta his guards scrounged from the emptied civilian houses he moved between every few days, according to a senior security official captured with him.

image Under siege by the former rebels for weeks, Colonel Qaddafi grew impatient with life on the run in the city of Surt, said the official, Mansour Dhao Ibrahim, the leader of the feared People’s Guard, a network of loyalists, volunteers and informants. “He would say: ‘Why is there no electricity? Why is there no water?’ “

Mr. Dhao, who stayed close to Colonel Qaddafi throughout the siege, said that he and other aides repeatedly counseled the colonel to leave power or the country, but that the colonel and one of his sons, Muatassim, would not even consider the option.

Still, though some of the colonel’s supporters portrayed him as bellicose to the end and armed at the front lines, he actually did not take part in the fighting, Mr. Dhao said, instead preferring to read or make calls on his satellite phone. “I’m sure not a single shot was fired,” he said.

As Libya’s interim leaders prepared Saturday to formally start the transition to an elected government and set a timeline for national elections in 2012, sweeping away Colonel Qaddafi’s dictatorship, they faced the certainty that even in death the colonel had hurt them. The battle for Surt, Colonel Qaddafi’s birthplace, was prolonged for months by the presence of the fiercely loyal cadre he kept with him, delaying the end of a war most Libyans had hoped would be over with the fall of Tripoli in August.

Mr. Dhao’s comments, in an interview on Saturday at the military intelligence headquarters in Misurata, came as the final details of the colonel’s death, at the hands of the fighters who had captured him, were still being debated.

Residents of Misurata spent a third day viewing the bodies of Colonel Qaddafi and his son at a meat locker in a local shopping mall. Officials with the interim government have said that they will conduct an autopsy on the bodies and investigate allegations that the two men may have been killed while in custody, though local security officials have said they see no need for such an inquiry.

Mr. Dhao, who is said to be a cousin of Colonel Qaddafi, became a trusted member of his inner circle. As head of the People’s Guard, he presided over a force accused of playing a central role in the violent crackdowns on protesters during the uprising, including firing on unarmed demonstrators in Tripoli’s Tajura neighborhood. The guard’s volunteer members harassed residents at checkpoints throughout the city. Mr. Dhao was believed to have kept weapons and detainees at his farm, according to Salah Marghani of the Libyan Human Rights Group.

In a separate interview with Human Rights Watch, Mr. Dhao denied that he had ordered any violence.

On Saturday, he spoke in a large conference room that served as his cell, wearing a blanket on his legs and a blue shirt, maybe an electric company uniform, inscribed with the word “power.”

A few guards were present, but they spoke only among themselves. He said his captors had treated him well and had sent doctors to tend to injuries he sustained before his capture, including shrapnel wounds under his eye, and on his back and left arm.

Many of his statements appeared to be self-serving; he said, for instance, that he and others had repeatedly tried to convince Colonel Qaddafi that the revolutionaries were not rats and mercenaries, as the colonel was fond of saying, but ordinary people.

“He knew that these were Libyans who were revolting,” he said. Other times, he seemed full of regret, explaining his failure to surrender or escape as his way of fulfilling “a moral obligation to stay” with the colonel before adding, “My courage failed me.”

His account of the battle did not address the accusations made by the former rebels of abuses by loyalist forces inside Surt. Ismael al-Shukri, the deputy chief of military intelligence in Misurata, said that loyalists had used families as human shields and that there were reports that loyalist soldiers had detained daughters to prevent families from leaving. The former rebels have also said that the Qaddafi forces executed soldiers who refused to fight.

Colonel Qaddafi fled to Surt on Aug. 21, the day Tripoli fell, in a small convoy that traveled through the loyalist bastions of Tarhuna and Bani Walid. “He was very afraid of NATO,” said Mr. Dhao, who joined him about a week later.

The decision to stay in Surt was Muatassim’s; the colonel’s son reasoned that the city, long known as an important pro-Qaddafi stronghold and under frequent bombardment by NATO airstrikes, was the last place anyone would look.

The colonel traveled with about 10 people, including close aides and guards. Muatassim, who commanded the loyalist forces, traveled separately from his father, fearing that his own satellite phone was being tracked.

Apart from a phone, which the colonel used to make frequent statements to a Syrian television station that became his official outlet, Colonel Qaddafi was largely “cut off from the world,” Mr. Dhao said. He did not have a computer, and in any case, there was rarely any electricity. The colonel, who was fond of framing the revolution as a religious war between devout Muslims and the rebel’s Western backers, spent his time reading the Koran, Mr. Dhao said.

He refused to hear pleas to give up power. He would say, according to Mr. Dhao: “This is my country. I handed over power in 1977,” referring to his oft-repeated assertion that power was actually in the hands of the Libyan people. “We tried for a time, and then the door was shut,” the aide said, adding that the colonel seemed more open to the idea of giving up power than his sons did.

For weeks, the former rebels fired heavy weapons indiscriminately at the city. “Random shelling was everywhere,” said Mr. Dhao, adding that a rocket or a mortar shell struck one of the houses where the colonel was staying, wounding three of his guards. A chef who was traveling with the group was also hurt, so everyone started cooking, Mr. Dhao said.

About two weeks ago, as the former rebels stormed the city center, the colonel and his sons were trapped shuttling between two houses in a residential area called District No. 2. They were surrounded by hundreds of former rebels, firing at the area with heavy machine guns, rockets and mortars. “The only decision was whether to live or to die,” Mr. Dhao said. Colonel Qaddafi decided it was time to leave, and planned to flee to one of his houses nearby, where he had been born.

On Thursday, a convoy of more than 40 cars was supposed to leave at about around 3 a.m., but disorganization by the loyalist volunteers delayed the departure until 8 a.m. In a Toyota Land Cruiser, Colonel Qaddafi traveled with his chief of security, a relative, the driver and Mr. Dhao. The colonel did not say much during the drive.

NATO warplanes and former rebel fighters found them half an hour after they left. When a missile struck near the car, the airbags deployed, said Mr. Dhao, who was hit by shrapnel in the strike. He said he tried to escape with Colonel Qaddafi and other men, walking first to a farm, then to the main road, toward some drainage pipes. “The shelling was constant,” Mr. Dhao said, adding that he was struck by shrapnel again and fell unconscious. When he woke up, he was in the hospital.

“I’m sorry for all that happened to Libya,” he said, “from the beginning to the end.”


Libya leader orders investigation of Gadhafi death

By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press
Mon Oct 24, 1:53 pm ET

TRIPOLI, Libya – With Libyans lining up to view Moammar Gadhafi’s rotting corpse for a fourth day, the country’s interim leader promised Monday to investigate how the longtime dictator was captured alive then killed a short time later after he came under strong international pressure to explain what happened.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil said at a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi that the National Transitional Council has formed a committee to investigate Thursday’s killing amid conflicting reports of how the dictator who ruled Libya for 42 years died. Government officials have said initial findings suggest Gadhafi was killed in the crossfire as his supporters clashed with revolutionary forces seizing control of his hometown of Sirte.
But Abdul-Jalil raised a new possibility on Monday, suggesting that Gadhafi could have been killed by his own supporters to prevent him from implicating them in past misdeeds under his regime.
“Let us question who has the interest in the fact that Gadhafi will not be tried. Libyans want to try him for what he did to them, with executions, imprisonment and corruption,” he said. “Free Libyans wanted to keep Gadhafi in prison and humiliate him as long as possible. Those who wanted him killed were those who were loyal to him or had played a role under him, his death was in their benefit.”
The U.S., Britain and international rights groups have called for an investigation into whether Libya’s former rebels killed a wounded Gadhafi after pulling him out of a drainage pipe in his hometown of Sirte, the last city to fall to revolutionary forces after an 8-month civil war.
Critics also have said the gruesome spectacle of his blood-streaked body laid out as a trophy for public viewing — flanked by his slain son Muatassim and former defense chief Abu Bakr Younis — in a commercial freezer raises questions about the new leadership’s commitment to the rule of law.
Several dozen people filed through the freezer to see the bodies on Monday, including a woman with five small children. Gadhafi was wrapped in a white, bloodstained sheet covered by a brown blanket that was bundled around him with a string. His head was turned so the fatal bullet wound was not visible, although there was a small spot of crusted blood on his forehead.
Armed guards in the freezer rushed people through, giving them about 30 seconds to look. Misrata was besieged by Gadhafi loyalists for weeks in the spring, coming under heavy shelling at the time, and its residents are eager for revenge.
A spokesman for the Misrata military council said he expected the bodies to be buried on Tuesday.
“It’s 90 percent sure that Gadhafi will be buried tomorrow in an unmarked grave in a secret location,” Ibrahim Beit al-Mal told The Associated Press, saying revolutionary forces don’t want his grave to be turned into a shrine.
Abdul-Jalil said earlier that the transitional government has established a committee to determine what ultimately to do with Gadhafi’s body and the decisions will be governed by a fatwa, or religious edict, by the head of the Islamic Fatwa society.
Libya’s revolt erupted in February as part of anti-government protests spreading across the Middle East. But Libya’s struggle has been the bloodiest so far in the region. Mass protests turned into a civil war that killed thousands and paralyzed the country. Gadhafi loyalists held out for two more months after the fall of the capital of Tripoli in late August.
Abdul-Jalil declared the country liberated on Sunday, launching the oil-rich nation on what is meant to be a two-year transition to democracy. But he also laid out plans with an Islamist tone that could rattle their Western backers. He said Islamic Sharia law would be the “basic source” of legislation, and that existing laws that contradict the teachings of Islam would be nullified.
Using Sharia as the main source of legislation is stipulated in the constitution of neighboring Egypt. Still, Egyptian laws remain largely secular as Egypt’s interpretation of Sharia does not cover all aspects of modern life, while Saudi Arabia and Iran apply much more strict interpretations.
Abdul-Jalil also outlined several changes to align with Islamic law such as banning banks from paying interest and lifting restrictions on the number of wives Libyan men can take. The Muslim holy book, the Quran, allows men up to four wives.
Mindful of the concern, Abdul-Jalil said Monday he was referring to a temporary constitution and said he wanted to “assure the international community that we as Libyans are moderate Muslims.”
He also said there will be a referendum on a new constitution after it is drawn up.
Islamist groups stand to gain ground in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt as well, after they shook off longtime dictators.
Libyan leaders have said they will form a new interim government within a month of liberation and hold elections for a constitutional assembly within eight months after that.
Concern about human rights violations clouded the declaration of liberation by Libya’s new leaders on Sunday.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch warned Monday of a “trend of killings, looting and other abuses” by those who fought Gadhafi after finding 53 decomposing bodies, apparently of Gadhafi loyalists, some of whom it said may have been executed by revolutionary forces.
The bodies were found on the lawn of the abandoned Mahari hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound. HRW researcher Peter Bouckaert said the hotel had come under the control of fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.
The condition of the bodies suggested the men were killed between Oct. 15-19, the group said. Bloodstains on the grass and spent cartridges indicated some were shot and killed at the spot they were discovered.
“This latest massacre seems part of a trend of killings, looting, and other abuses committed by armed anti-Gadhafi fighters who consider themselves above the law,” Bouckaert said in a statement. “It is imperative that the transitional authorities take action to rein in these groups.”
The group called on Libyan authorities to conduct an immediate investigation.
Several videos have emerged showing Gadhafi was alive when he was captured and taunted and beaten by revolutionary fighters on the scene. The Boston-based international news site GlobalPost posted a video showing Gadhafi’s captors ramming a stick into his buttocks through his pants.
One Gadhafi son, Muatassim, also was killed, but the former leader’s one-time heir apparent, Seif al-Islam, apparently escaped with some of his supporters.

Update October 25, 2011

Qaddafi, Son and Former Defense Aide Buried in Secret Place
By KAREEM FAHIM and RICK GLADSTONE
MISURATA, Libya — After four days on public display in a meat locker here, the slowly decomposing corpses of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, one of his sons and his former defense minister were buried in a predawn funeral at a secret location on Tuesday, a top military official said.

The official, Ibrahim Beitalmal, leader of the military intelligence branch in Misurata, said relatives of the three men, including a nephew of Colonel Qaddafi, Mahmoud Hamid, were permitted to attend the burials. Cellphone photos of the ceremony showed three bodies wrapped in white shrouds and placed in coffins of thin wood.

Mr. Beitalmal declined to specify where the bodies of Colonel Qaddafi; his son Muatassim; and the former defense minister, Abu Bakr Younes, had been interred.

Officials of the Transitional National Council, the interim government, had said they would not disclose the location of the graves, fearing that they would be desecrated or become a shrine for supporters of Colonel Qaddafi, who was killed Thursday. The three men were among those captured in Surt, the former leader’s hometown on the Mediterranean coast, by fighters from Misurata. Colonel Qaddafi had sought refuge in Surt after the rebellion that toppled him in August.

The burials, which were also attended by more than a dozen officials from Misurata, did not quiet the lingering questions about the men’s final moments.

All three apparently died in captivity under circumstances that have not been clarified — particularly in the case of Colonel Qaddafi, who was seen alive after his capture in cellphone videos that were posted on the Internet. Later photographs showed his corpse after he had apparently been shot in the head.

Responding to international pressure, the Transitional National Council has said it would investigate his death: killing captives is considered a war crime.

But there is little appetite among the Libyan revolutionaries for prosecuting the killer or killers of Colonel Qaddafi, whose death ended a brutal dictatorship and signified the end of the most violent of the Arab Spring’s political uprisings.

On Tuesday, the interim government released a long statement that amplified the mixed feelings about the deaths. The council said it would “not tolerate” prisoner abuse, but then went on to detail Colonel Qaddafi’s crimes, including the killing of 1,270 prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in 1996 and the executions of Libyans overseas.

“We did not want to end this tyrant’s life before he was brought to court, and before he answered questions that have deprived Libyans from sleep and tormented them for years,” the statement said.

Col. Ahmed Bani, a spokesman for the Transitional National Council’s military wing, dismissed reports by Human Rights Watch and others of a massacre in Surt, possibly committed by anti-Qaddafi forces.

The people who died in Surt “were resisting our troops,” he said at a news conference in Tripoli, the capital. “They were killed during fighting.”

“Our fighters were just doing their duty,” he added.

A visit to Surt on Monday showed clear signs of a mass killing outside the Mahari Hotel, where volunteers were clearing dozens of bodies of people who seemed to have been executed days earlier. The hotel had been used by anti-Qaddafi fighters during their assault.

Colonel Bani also brushed away a question about reports that Qaddafi loyalists had been mistreated, saying, “Our Islamic values insist that we give the right treatment to prisoners.”

Echoing suggestions made Monday by Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the chairman of the Transitional National Council, that Colonel Qaddafi might not have been killed by the fighters who captured him — although the graphic videos strongly suggest otherwise — Colonel Bani hinted that other forces might have been responsible.

“We will look into the reasons for the killing of Qaddafi and into who had an interest in seeing him killed,” Colonel Bani said.

The Transitional National Council previously said Colonel Qaddafi was shot in the head during a gunfight between his captors and loyalists in Surt, without specifying who might have fired the fatal shot.

A fighter from Misurata who recorded video of Colonel Qaddafi’s capture offered another inconclusive narrative of what might have happened.

The fighter, Ayman Almani, 24, said he saw another man shoot Colonel Qaddafi moments after he had been hauled out of a storm drain in Surt where he had been hiding.

Mr. Almani would not identify the gunman who fired the fatal shot, and the images on his camera did not show the moment of Colonel Qaddafi’s death. He said he had not uploaded the video to the Internet and had refused to sell it to news organizations.

The video, which he allowed a reporter to see, showed fighters slapping and shoving Colonel Qaddafi for about three minutes while he was seated on the hood of a vehicle. After the camera moves away from Colonel Qaddafi, gunshots can be heard, followed by images of him on the ground, seemingly unconscious, his shirt pulled up to show what appears to be a bullet wound to his abdomen.

Asked why he would not identify the gunman, Mr. Almani said, “I do not want to be remembered as the one who sold him out.”

Kareem Fahim reported from Misurata, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya.

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