Posts Tagged ‘Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (1942-)’

Flying NATO warrant for Gaddafi over Libyan desert.

When a court orders an alleged killer to be arrested and it notices that someone else tries repeatedly to kill ‘their killer’…. it would issue also an arrest warrant for the murderer ‘in spe’ of the indicted. Sounds logical but we see today that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court fails to do so. He did not issue any public statement ordering the chiefs of NATO to stop their attempts at the life of someone who needs to face his judges here on earth.

Below is the concluding statement by the ICC Prosecutor at the press conference on Libya in The Hague on 16 May 2011:

My Office has not requested the intervention of international forces to implement the arrest warrants. Should the Court issue them and the three individuals remain in Libya, Libyan authorities have the primary responsibility to arrest them. Libya is a member of the United Nations and it has the duty to abide by Security Council Resolution 1970.

When the time comes, implementing the arrest warrants will be the most effective way to protect civilians under attack in Libya and elsewhere. As in any other criminal case, the execution of the warrants will have a deterrent impact for other leaders who are thinking of using violence to gain or retain power.


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The dust of the impact of a NATO bomb on the compound of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya – leaving some of his family members dead – has hardly dwindled, or the triumphant news of the assassination of  Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan is proudly announced by the American president. Whereas the NATO spokesman denied a purposely targeting of the Libyan head of state using the commonly used argument in such cases that the targeted object had a military strategic function, the undercover operation of targeting and killing of Bin Laden – who is not a head of state and is considered an international outlaw – was proudly admitted by President Obama. Would Gaddafi have been killed in the NATO attack, it would have been classified as “a case of collateral tyrannicide.”


That is what “Resolution 1973″ of  the Security Council in it’s 6498th meeting on March the 17th 2011 says. Who reads through the details sees: protection of civilians; No-fly zone’ ; enforcement of arms embargo;  ban on flights; asset freeze; but nowhere is the option of disposal of the head of state, let alone targeting his life mentioned. On the contrary – in the same document – the Prosecutor of the International Court of Justice in The Hague is alerted about the possible targeting of the Libyan civilian population by its authorities, this  in order to call them to justice. Our modern courts do not practice anymore justice on accused that are dead.

In antiquity the slaying of a tyrant was seen as an honourable act, a self sacrifice for the public cause, but the institutional execution of murder by international associations of states seems to be of another order. One can not pretend to uphold a state of international justice on the one hand and order summary execution without trial of misbehaving heads of state at the other, because who will be the judge of such decisions? The same reasoning does apply to the execution of those who are labeled as terrorists. What Gaddafi, Bin Laden and Assad have in common is that they have been declared in public opinion as public enemies and as such in the political practice of today they stand almost no change to be brought to court alive and face their judges. They are on the informal 'hit list' of legal representatives of state coalitions, designated to die violently. Will that serve the cause of justice and peace?

‘Mission creep’ has become a household word in todays international politics: half a war is started on a quarter of evidence whipped up in ‘the news’ and those who may have a good historical insight in any of these turmoil areas are the last to be consulted, as diplomatic options are cast aside in haste and overridden by military solutions. Politicians – with their own national and international agenda – are even competing in proposing the military approach as faster and more efficient. What started of as a temporary interventions to prevent mass killings, pre-emptive strikes against the employment of mass murder weapons, and other direct threats against humanity, prove  – on a longer term – to be operations that are more ‘problem makers’ than ‘problem solvers’. The military are saddled with practical questions diplomats were not able or not allowed to solve: is there a rational basis to decide who is going to be supported, who needs to be attacked, who to be protected and what about bloody revenge in the aftermath of a state collapse?

On the one hand there is notion of sovereign states and the principle of non-intervention under international law and, on the other,  the aim to protect human rights and prevent mass violence. “Protection of civilians by all necessary means” is the mission in the case of Libya. One should read the “all necessary” as acts that still need to be within the legal bounds of laws, agreements and regulations that form the foundation of the United Nations. The United Nations does not endorse the killing of a head of state, even when she or he is labelled as someone acting against their own population, is known as a tyrant. Head of states do not have (anymore) full impunity, they can be called to justice, an International Criminal Court has been set up in The Hague which is supposed to pursue such persons. The killing of a tyrant – tyrannicide – is not supported by international law, however beneficent  it may seem to be in short range. But, in law, one needs always to reverse the logic and ask the question: “but, is it explicitly forbidden and if so where and in how is that prohibition formulated?”

Two years ago this question has also been raised in a thorough article by the scholar Shannon Brincat in the ‘Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy’ under the title “Legal Philosophy of Internationally Assisted Tyrannicide.” Brincat is not a lawyer but a political scientist and rightly focusses on the underlying historical principles of the practice of international law and tyrannicide as he looks back a few centuries and cites Gentili (1522-1608), Grotius (1583-1645) and Vattel (1714-1767) on the issue of  acceptability of the killing of a tyrant, a person belonging to the classical legal category of ‘hostis humani generis’ (common enemies of mankind). Brincat shows the historical acceptance of ‘tyrannicide’ as a way to get rid of a despotic and cruel ruler abusing the public power. The legitimacy of a ruler was thought to be based on a common bond with his subjects. When a ruler failed to work for the welfare of all, the bond would be nilled and murder could be envisaged to put an end to tyranny. Murder of a tyrant has been often an act of a private citizen for the common good of his fellow citizens. In some cases it has been classified as ‘an act of self-defence’.

“It be lawful to kill him who is preparing to kill.” Hugo Grotius seen as the father of 'international law' in "On the Law of war and peace" (De Jure Belli ac Pacis; 1625. Book II, 10.), self defence not only after an attack but also to prevent it. Grotius uses all kind of classical references to support this point. The killing of tyrants is deeply embedded in human history and has also a strong presence in European Renaissance art, whereby the biblical story in the Christian Old testament of Judith beheading Holofernes, an Assyrian general who is about to slaughter her besieged home town Betylua in Judea, is the most famous example. A gruesome deed, acted out by Judith as 'the hand of God'. Our forebears were not afraid of gruesome pictures as can be seen here in two of artistic renderings of this 'parable': 'The discovery of the murder of Holofernes' by Botticelli painted in 1472, and the sculpture by Donatello dramatising the same subject in 1460. The meaning of Donatello's sculpture in Firenze was an explicit political one, pointing to the liberty of the citizens to dispose of a tyrant if needed. The portrait to the right is of Grotius known by the Dutch as Hugo de Groot.

There is also the planned assassination of a tyrant of one state by those governing another state, in support of oppressed people trying to revolt. This needs to be clearly set apart from all kind of inter-state conspiracies to bring down another power by treacherous acts. Brincat tries to distinguish all kind of murders arranged for political gain -assassinations – from the act of tyrannicide. He points to the context in which a murder is committed and how that can change its status, from being ‘a war crime’ , a ‘terrorist act’, ‘aggression against a state’, or ‘intervention in internal affairs’. International regulations of war are documented in some detail in the article, like the many conventions of  The Hague and Geneva over a period of one and a half century, whereby the ‘treacherous killing of citizens’ has been formally forbidden, and lately also the use ‘military covert action’ has been restricted. In spite of all this, military practice always has it in it’s own way, as it can not work without using treacherous tactics, hence the constant trespassing of all what is laid down in whatever convention. In the theatre of war the old adagio rules: “everything is lawful against enemies.”

The United Nations  ‘New York Convention’ – as it is known – in full Prevention and Punishment of Crime Against Internationally Protected Persons, dating from 1973, does give protection to heads of states, ministers, diplomats and their family outside of their country, this to support international diplomacy, but does not speak about the attempts on the lives of these same persons within their own country.

The States Parties to this Convention, Having in mind the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations concerning the maintenance of international peace and the promotion of friendly relations and cooperation among States, Considering that crimes against diplomatic agents and other internationally protected persons jeopardizing the safety of these persons create a serious threat to the maintenance of normal international relations which are necessary for cooperation among States, Believing that the commission of such crimes is a matter of grave concern to the international community, Convinced that there is an urgent need to adopt appropriate and effective measures for the prevention and punishment of such crimes (…) [Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons..; 14 December 1973]

This omission creates a a window of opportunity for legal advisers to military commanders as to the repercussions to be feared when targeting heads of state and their governmental echelon at home.  In the recent case of the alleged targeting of Gaddafi and his family by NATO, this can still be seen as a ‘hostile act of intervention in the internal affairs of a state’, but there are loopholes in the UN ‘Resolution 1973’. When an attack will be  classified as an operation necessary  to keep the forces of Gaddafi from attacking civilians, it suddenly is not illegal anymore. That the great leader or his family are hurt on the side is just “their” bad luck. Even when seated peacefully in his berber tent  in an oasis next to a swimming pool, not Gaddafi himself but his nearby entourage with all kind of communication equipment busy in commanding operations, can still be marked as a legitimate military target and Gaddafi being just a collateral victim.

“All NATO’s targets are military in nature … We do not target individuals” [NATO spokesman the Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, Brussels May 1, as reported by Reuters]

When demonstrators change the labelling of a head of state this does not mean that the legal position of the person according to international law has been changed accordingly, there is still the process of law that needs "to investigate the alleged commission of war crimes" Press Release: 04.05.2011 of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International criminal Court in The Hague. When it comes to killing a strong barrier between the 'symbolic' and the 'real' needs to be put in place, if we want to avoid lynching and other forms of 'mob justice'.

Heads of states – metamorphosed into tyrants or not – do not have international legal protection against attacks by other nations on their lives in their own country, as it has been thought obvious that local laws do protect them sufficiently, any constitution secures the safety of its head of state. A situation that brought President Ronald Reagan and his advisers to the cowboy tactics of  “Operation El Dorado Canyon” in 1986, bombing the headquarters of Colonel Gaddafi in retaliation of  the alleged Libyan support for several urban guerrilla actions in the period 1985-86, the latest one being a bomb attack on a dancing in West-Berlin in April 1986 (frequented by American soldiers; 3 death and 230 people injured). The number of people that died in the USA revenge bomb attack vary in different sources, from 15 to 60, among which an adopted daughter of Gaddafi (some say it was a post-mortum adoption for propaganda reasons). The American cowboy action was condemned by many countries and lead to a resolution in the General Assembly of the United Nations (79 in favour, 28 against, 33 abstentions). There was also a condemning  ‘Declaration of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity’.

Declaration of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity on the aerial and naval military attack against the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya by the present United States Administration in April 1986: 1. Condemns the military attack perpetrated against the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya on 15 April 1986, which constitutes a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law; 2. Calls upon the Government of the United States in this regard to refrain from the threat or use of force in the settlement of disputes and differences with the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and to resort to peaceful means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (…) [A/RES/41/38 20 November 1986 78th plenary meeting]

The U.S. President Ronald Reagan meeting with bipartisan members of the U.S. Congress to discuss the air strike on Libya ("Operation El Dorado Canyon") in Room 208 of the Old Executive office building, 14 April 1986.

The Iraq war of 2003 saw a repetition of such cowboy tactics, whereby at first a plan to murder Saddam Hussein had been devised and when that did not work, tons of bombs and missiles have been dropped on palaces and bunkers of the ‘head of state’, while the mission was officially not aimed at a change of regime, or the killing of the ‘tyrant’. Mission creep on grand scale…

At the other end of the international juridical spectrum are ‘the people’, the whole population, and how they are protected by international law against their own government when it turns against them. They are not protected, we all know it, as the principle of our international community in its actual form, the United Nations, is based on its Charter that defines the association of sovereign states as the most basic principle. Any intrusion of this sovereignty of an existing government by an outer force can be labelled as ‘intervention in internal affairs’.

All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. [UN Charter article 2 (4)]

There are of course, since the 1948 ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide…’, all kind of mechanism to protect human rights and human lives, but the enforcement of these rights remain problematic. The Genocide Convention itself is limited by its origin to prevent repetition of the racial based extermination policy of the Nazis and has proven useless when it came to mass killings with political or ‘social class’ motives be it in China , Cambodia, or elsewhere.

The principle of  the right to ‘self defence’ of individuals against an attacker is seen as customary and has found its way in all national laws, though many persons or groups that have been attacked by adversaries – be they local or national – and defended themselves, have found themselves categorised and treated as insurgents and outlaws by their local government.
The right of self-defence has been purported to states as sovereign entities also and laid down in international law, be it in a limited form, as the arbiter of inter state conflicts, the Security Council of the United Nations, needs to be alarmed and once they have undertaken measures this self-defence right should not anymore be practiced.

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. [Article 51 of the UN Charter]

Not everyone reads this UN Charter article in the same way. Niaz A.Shah has written a thirty page long article in 2007 in the ‘Journal of Conflict and Security Law’ on the raging debate between international law professors and the different state and government bodies that pick from these academic deliberations, what serves them best. “Self-defence, Anticipatory Self-defence and Pre-emption: International Law’s Response to Terrorism” is the title of his overview of this battlefield of law and it becomes clear that two main schools of interpretation can be distinguished: the ‘restricted’ and ‘expanded’. It starts with the question when self-defence begins and even more important when it ends, whereby the development of ever more deadly and extreme rapid delivery of weaponry effects, has shifted some of the initial argument, that a state could not react before it had been actually attacked, to a situation whereby suspicion of imminent attack is sufficient . The interpretation of what must be understood by the two words “armed attack” has also changed since the UN Charter has been drafted and signed in 1945, its intention being “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

Some states do see ‘anticipatory self-defence’ as a statutory right and greatly widen its interpretation, like the ‘pre-emptive strike against terrorism strategy of US President George Bush. The impotence  of the UN Security Council, its constant failure to act swiftly, its awkward system of five big states that can pronounce a veto over any proposal, is mentioned as the main reason why the idea of “peaceful settlement” of conflicts and the internationally controlled used of force by the United Nations constantly fails. The right to self-defence may thus – by some states – be put above international law.

At the time of the writing of the UN Charter international conflicts were solely seen as between states, but the non-state based phenomenon of international terrorism have altered that view. Does article 51 of the UN Charter also apply to non-state actors like al-Qaeda and when can one state be hold responsible for such non-state terrorist actors and can the principle of self-defence of a state be stretched to such an extend that a supposed host of terrorists can be attacked, either in reactive self-defence, or as a pre-emptive strike to prevent suspected future attacks? “We can not let our enemy strike first” or “We can not just wait and accept our fate like a sitting duck”, the arguments are known and do sound convincing at first.

Niaz A.Shah cites a counter argument by Professor J. Lobel who refers to the bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan in response to terrorist attacks in an article in Yale Journal of International Law published in 1999:

It is untenable for international law to permit one nation to attack another merely because it alone claims that a group operating in the other country is launching terrorist attacks against it. Such a rule would obliterate the prohibition against the use of force, as unsubstantiated claims by a single state would become the new legal predicate for the use of force. Those who urge a looser interpretation of Article 51 have yet to prescribe a viable method of ensuring that self-serving characterisations of facts are subject to some clear legal standard and international oversight.

The Security Council issued in 2001 Resolution number 1368 as a reaction on the 9/11 terrorist attack: “to bring to justice the perpetrators.” Has justice been done now, since Osama Bin Laden has been shot dead in an undercover operation in Pakistan? A great nation like the United States of America at war with a non-nation like al-Qaeda, does that mean that on the one hand legality of ‘self defence’ based on article 51 of the UN Charter is used, while on the other no ‘rule or law of war’ seem to apply in the way this new kind of anti-terrorist battle is fought.

It dawned on me that the supposed killing in battle of Osama Bin Laden, applauded worldwide as a victory of justice, has all the aspects of a classical act of ‘tyrannicide’. David George of Cambridge University published in 1988-  in the year that al-Qaeda has been founded and was not yet widely known  – an article entitled “Distinguishing Classical Tyrannicide from Modern Terrorism” in ‘The review of Politics’. In his summary is this concluding statement: “Terrorism, in short, is a form of tyranny of which tyrannicide is a negation.” George sees ‘terrorism’ and ‘tyrannicide’ as different antagonistic categories even when some of the assassinations perpetrated by modern terrorists are be seen – by some – as ‘self-denying acts for the public good’ (“one man’s terrorist is another man’s hero”). Bin Laden thus has become the emperor reigning a non-state imperium, whose death has liberated us from a cruel reign.

A painting one could imagine awaiting a central place in the Oval Office of the White House with the title "Geronimo-EKIA", meaning "Bin Laden - Enemy Killed in Action", Geronimo referring to the Indian Apache fighter against Mexican and American settlers colonising his land; a peculiar historical reference chosen as an operation name by the CIA. Though White House sources have stated that the actually killing has not been broadcasted live to the command centre of the President and the CIA, we see Obama and Clinton with their staff watching something 'we' are not allowed to see. Those who were present, they do the looking for us, like the official representatives during an execution in a state prison. The intentions and effects of this purposely made and widely distributed photograph by the official White House photographer are multiple. One of the possible interpretations is that this photograph makes us 'witnesses' the 'historical witnessing' by others, implicitly acknowledging the legality of the operation. On the drawer of the Oval Office we see a bust of President Abraham Lincoln who proposed once the following inscription for the Great Seal of the United States: "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God." (click picture for a detailed view)

US Attorney General Eric Holder speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 4th. said it was “an act of national self-defense”  and “lawful.” Tyrannicide as an act of state self-defence? The tyrant killed in battle ending his unjust cause. In the case of Bin Laden one can hardly speak about a pre-emptive strike or ‘bringing someone to justice’, though the distinction between “Enemy Killed In Battle” and ‘summary execution‘ has – in practice – always been hard to make. The internationally approved rules do in no way allow a killing on the spot without  judgement. The Geneva Convention of 1977 has a special paragraph forbidding it.

“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No man shall be deprived of his life arbitrarily.” “[The Death] penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court” – ICCPR Articles 6.1 and 6.2.[1]

One of the most classical cases of tyrannicide is by a group of senators, jointly stabbing emperor Julius Caesar to death in the hall of the Senate.  It is more an example of  a ‘preemptive strike’ than an execution or revenge. The royal ambitions and proposed absolute rule of the ‘dictator perpetuo’ of the Republic of Rome, had to be halted. The conspirators abandon the corpse of Caesar on the spot where he has been killed and ran through the streets of Rome shouting “People of Rome, we are once again free!.” Not many responded and curious enough the fact that they left the body of Caesar was also to their disadvantage as it became a symbol for his followers later. The dropping of the body of Bin Laden right after his violent death may point to some classicists on the team preparing the operation in Pakistan.

The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCA here in an eighteenth century depiction of the the Italian painter Vincenzo Camuccini was a joint undertaking of a group of noblemen having the position of senators, who were fearing loss of their influence, something they saw a congruent with the safeguard of the liberties and influence of the people in the politics of the Republic of Rome. It set a series of events in motion that ended in civil war and the destruction of the same 'republic' they intended to safe. The centralising of power in the hands of one man as initiated by Caesar became after all practice in the later Roman Empire. Strangely - till this day - the assassination of Caesar is proposed as a successful prominent example of tyrannicide.

Humanitarian intervention by other states or international associations of states may be the only way to alter an unbearable state of suffering of main parts of a population, but however noble the incentive, practice may prove to be different in many cases. Imposed change of regime from the outside, invasion to establish democracy, we have seen how such undertakings can develop in yet another human disaster in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The question remains if  imposed change of regime, is aimed just at a dictator or a set of rulers, or if it is ‘the system of government’ which is targeted. Who is to judge  and on what premises?

Brincat mentions recent proposals for possible legal endorsement – in special cases – of the act of tyrannicide, in order to halt extreme suffering of a population, and he also notes its drawbacks.

“As many have warned the danger is that a unilateral assessment of tyranny could become a Trojan horse and may corrupt tyrannicide to an asymmetrical right only of powerful states.” [page 182 of his article]

Is that not, what we observe these days? Who makes the so called ‘tyrant hit list’, who will be on it? Who will have enough power to execute it? What about all those who do not agree with such irrevocable acts?  High technology aerial attacks on a head of state – or premises that are felt to be symbolic for the nation’s proud – by an outside force can also have a counter effect of rallying a nation around a national leader in demise, like it was the case after the NATO bombardments on Serbia in 1999 and the increase of support it created for President Slobodan Milošević, who could play out his new role as a victim of NATO aggression. It is not surprising that till this day this NATO bombardment, that was meant to protect the Albanians in Kosovo, is not forgotten in Serbia and remains a political rallying point for ultra nationalists like the Serbian ‘Radical Party’ of Vojislav Seselj (who is on trial at the Yugoslav Court in the Hague) a party who staged a pro-Gaddafi deomonstration in Belgrade on March 27th this year.

Left: March 20 demonstration outside the compound of Gaddafi in Tripoli say to form a human shield to protect their leader against attacks of Coalition forces. Right: Pro-Gaddafi demonstration in front of the Belgrade House of Parliament by Serbian ultra nationalists on March 27th. Some may call these demonstrators blinded zealots following the wrong cause, but one should consider that aerial attacks by foreign military forces will create antagonistic feeling for the powers throwing their bombs in broad layers of the population of a country suffering from it.

There are other aspects against the act of ‘tyrannicide’ especially when arranged or perpetrated from the outside, by other nations and other interest groups (like multinationals), not part of the nation that suffers tyranny. It distorts the social relations of a society – already in turmoil – with a foreign element which tends to be outside the scope of control of the population in question. It hinders the social revolution, apparently on its way. In the process of shifting of power it puts its weight only on one scale and thus disfavours genuine equalitarian forms of change.
It also puts too much emphasis on ‘the one supreme leader’ whereas each tyrant is a complex social system of alliances, with many collaborators that will be all too happy that the head of the tyrant is cut while the social body of the tyrant may life on for quiet a while or never vanish.
We should be aware that there is no great difference between ‘tyrannicide’ and ‘revenge judgement’. The hurried execution of the Rumanian dictator Ceausescu and his wife and the speedy trial and hanging of Saddam Hussein and only a selected group of his associates, are examples to bear in mind. When we think about long lived regimes like the one of Saddam Hussein, the Assad family and Gaddafi, there must be all kind of entangled social layers related in many ways to the ruling system. For such societies to reassess themselves is a cumbersome and long process and the concept of ‘Voluntary Servitude’ as formulated by Etienne de la Boétie (1530-1563) already centuries ago, must be born in mind. The text is also known in French as “Le Contr’un” which translates in English as the AntiDictator. Any usurper of power needs enough willing people to make him the ruler he is. A society must come to recognize how this process of mental and physical enslavement took place in order to find the right remedies to heal its historical wounds.

In September 2006 Gaddafi was celebrated as the 'knight of 40 years of Green Revolution'. A year later the habitual commemorative series of stamps was published "The 41st Anniversary of the September Revolution" by the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya"; Jamahiriya meaning "the state of the masses." .

As with the tyrants of the family Assad, Saddam Hussein (*) and Colonel Gaddafi, world leaders have been supportive of their regimes for decades for all kind of reasons: the stability of the Middle East and the position of Israel, a state opposing the Iran and its ambitions after the fall of the Western oriented Shah leading to indirect support of one of the most bloody post World War II wars, the one between Iraq and Iran. Other reasons are oil, gas and nuclear power contracts some of them signed only recently by the same political leaders of the Coalition Forces now involved in the military containment and overthrow of Gaddafi’s state. What about the economic interests colouring their vision? One can observe that shifts of power also imply shifts of political relationships, like a most recent visit of a trade mission of the People’s Republic of China to Cairo, after the fall of Mubarak.

Pictures from the family albums of heads of state to remember meeting Colonel Gaddafi: Putin, Chavez, Zapatero, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Hosni Mubarak, Mandela, Blair, Brown, Berlusconi, Chirac, Sarkozy, Obama.

The choice for military force, the attempts at collateral killing of Gaddafi, leaves no space for the later appearance in any court – be it Libyan or International – of Gaddafi. Imagine this: Gaddafi taking the stage to defend himself, what would he say, what would he tell about his former  powerful friends? Just the idea… better have him dead! Images of the process of Saddam Hussein come to mind of a judge hammering off his public statements.

A simulated targeting view of the compound of Gaddafi in Tripoli. The inset shows Nicolas Sarkozy during his state visit to Libya in 2007 standing next to Gaddafi in front of the monument commemorating the bombardment ordered by USA President Ronal Reagan in 1986 of the same compound he is standing in. This year March Sarkozy has been involved in the bombardment of the same spot.

Are we ready yet for a real functioning of an International Criminal Court that prosecutes individuals and their crimes in an impartial fashion? A process of judgement that will create the space necessary for rebuilding in a nation that what has been destroyed, giving time to recreate a minimal common bond between the people and its government. On the international stage of politics many speak of human rights protection and the necessity of some form of democracy. In practice this is deliver through the use of high-tech military power. Are these the right means to such an end? Will it serve Libya now, Syria later? It is doubtful that long distance military force through the air, ‘Big Stick Policy’ of the 21st century, will help to establish peace. Many of the perpetrators that should be judged will be dead before they can face their judges, here on earth.

'Big Stick Policy' in American cartoons from 1902 Roosevelt to 2011 Obama. Roosevelt attributed the term 'big stick' he started to use in 1900 to an African proverb: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."

Will  peace be served by state lead tyrannicide and assassination? I do not think so. The way a regime is changed determines the next one to come. There is now more than half a century of experience of how to apply international justice. The limitations of the victor courts of justice of Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II have long been surpassed. The examples of national and international courts for Yugoslavia, Uganda, Cambodia, Sudan, Congo, and so on – whatever their shortcomings – point the way to go. The emphasis should be on the suppression of tyranny by the rule of law. (**)

*) See my interactive Meta-Map of Saddam Hussein  1927-2007 (published in the Dutch Daily de Volkskrant in the year 2006)

**) Jackie Ashley wrote a comment in the Guardian of Sunday May 1. “Few would weep for Colonel Gaddafi, but targeting him is wrong In war, international law is all we have. If we cast it aside, there’ll be nothing left but might-is-right, arms, oil and profits.”

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Two days ago I went to a combined theatre performance and action meeting in the Brakke Grond in Amsterdam in support of the the Libyan migrant Ahmed Al-J. (also referred to as Ahmed Issa) who has been at the center of years of court cases and juridical and technical researches about a fatal fire on October 27, 2005 in a detention center at Schiphol airport for migrants, waiting for the result of their appeal against planned extradition.  Ahmed had at first been labeled by the court as the main culprit, because of a burning cigaret in his cell that set the whole section of the center aflame an left 11 people dead. Recently he has been acquited of this charge, as a whole series of management and construction mistakes have come to light, as result of a  series of inquiries and counter-inquiries. I will not further detail this case too much here as the facts are widely known by now. The incessant support for the traumatized migrants by several action groups (of which at least two should be mentioned here Migrant To Migrant/M2M and All Included), lawyers and some politicians, have had some concrete results, but the essential question of who is to be held responsible for the fact that a single cigarette in a prison-like new facility can lead to so many victims, has still not been answered in a satisfactory way. Singling out the Libyan migrant and his cigaret has allowed to keep out of focus the planners, management and local authorities who have to control the safety of this detention facility (located at Schiphol Oost, originally build to house drug smugglers captured at the airport). Many see this as a form of scapegoating.

Detail of painting (1854) "The Scapegoat" by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)

Detail of painting (1854) "The Scapegoat" by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) Exiled animal that bears the sins of the Jewish people (according to the Old Testament) a white goat with woolen threads between his horn like a trickle of blood, symbolizing purity, prefiguring the Messiah wearing the crown of thorns. For the whole painting and a more detailed description at the Hungarian Web Gallery of Art, click the picture...

Ahmed Al-J. who has now officially been exempted from responsibility for the death of 11 people, has found no clemency for his ordeal of the last four years (of which he spent two in prison). He has been ordained to be sent back to Libya. This in spite of the fact that he and his lawyer have appealed against this decision by the ministry for migration affairs. If he is still in the Netherlands at the moment of me writing? This I do not know.

Another depiction of a purifying ritual by driving out a scapegoat that carries the problems and sins of a community, with the goat like demon Azazel in the middle and a recent poster of the Free Ahmed Isa campaign, which reads: Schiphol keeps on burning (blows the fuses). "Thus the goat will bear al my  faults.." Ahmed Isa  scapegoat. Campaign Free Ahmed Issa.

Another depiction of a purifying ritual by driving out a scapegoat that carries the problems and sins of a community, with the goat like demon Azazel in the middle. Antique Greece knew a similar ritual whereby pre-selected persons (a slave cripple or criminal), called 'pharmakos' (Greek: φαρμακος) would be expelled from the community at the occurence of a disaster or at pre-configured days of purification. The word 'pharmakos' later became a term for a healing potion or drugs, hence 'pharmakeus' and nowadays 'pharmacy'. At the right end a recent poster of the Free Ahmed Isa campaign, which reads: Schiphol keeps on burning (blows the fuses). "Thus the goat will bear al my faults.." Ahmed Isa scapegoat. Campaign Free Ahmed Issa.

Back to the theatre evening where three short performances were given, each of them by one actor in a monologue form. One by an Iranian migrant with a  dance like performance about three generations of men being called into wars, especially referring to the mass slaughters of the Iran-Iraq War. Another,  an attempt to give some insight in the inner soul of the protestant christian former Minister of Justice Donner who had abdicated because of his formal responsibility for the burned down detention center and is put on stage trying the Catholic system of confession to find redemption. The last actor was a descendent of a maroon  tribe of run-away black slaves in the former Dutch colony of Surinam, who did a sort of ‘winti-pré’ (Surinam form of voodoo) about the officialdom hypocrisy embedded in the idea of “Dutch free citizenship.”

After these performances there was a modest attempt at discussion and a question what could or should be done. This brought into my mind a series of recurring odd associations during the last months and weeks, with Libya as a binding factor.

Here we had an absolute non glamorous, low profile most probably economic motivated migrant from Libya who had had lots of bad luck and had been forced into unwanted infamy and fame (Ahmed always have tried to keep his face hidden when entering court, and has tried hard to keep any picture of  his face out of the newspapers). While elsewhere another Libyan – also both infamous and famous – Gaddafi (*) has been stealing again the international news shows. After having been re-introduced on the international stage, late 2007, by French President Sarkozy his star has been rising again. Sarkozy maneuvered the French state oil and energy company ELF/Total in a successful barter with Gaddafi exchanging wrongly accused Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian medic for new Libyan energy supplies and other favoring economic contracts.

It took another year before another President, Silvio Berlusconi, could not resist the historic opportunities and the money and energy reserves of Colonel Gaddafi and invited him for yet another reconciliation visit. The ‘acte the presence’ of the Libyan leader was once more overwhelming, but what stroke me the most was his show with a historical photograph pinned on his uniform, next to the battery of color-codified military medals, rubbing Italy’s colonial history straight in the face of its actual president at the very moment of his arrival. Then, shortly after, Gaddafi popped up as a guest at the G8 meeting and had a tête-à-tête with British prime minister Gordon Brown. Again a barter was made, this time a rightly accused and convicted countryman of Gaddafi, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, who in exchange for a Libyan energy deal, was abducted from the independent nation of Scotland – where he did his twenty years prison sentence – to be flown back to a glorious reception in Tripoli as a lost national hero.

Welcome party at Tripoli airport of

Welcome party at Tripoli airport of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, one of the Lockerbie terrorists convicted to twenty years of imprisonment, relieved from prison for humanitarian reasons as he has a terminal stage of cancer on August 22, 2009. Gaddafi commented to the international press on the British prime minister and the Scottish parliament, calling the freeing "a courageous humanitarian gesture."

All these events and the images of them displayed in the media got connected in my mind – against all odds – with the case of the Libyan migrant in the Netherlands, who will await no happy crowds, who may need to fear for his well being once returned to his country. Visions came to me, in that Amsterdam theatre, where the question was posed what could be done for Ahmed Al-J…. I saw Ahmed being picked up by the Libyan leader with all his post-revolutionary pomp, the humiliation of the Dutch authorities, the oily business deals that would certainly be made on the side…. and a need arose to visualize all this, if it would not happen in real, to have it at least performed as a concrete fantasy on my and your screen… and some derivations following the history of the historical photograph pinned at the uniform of Colonel Gaddafi….

It is ex-minister of Justice Jan Hein Donner who has the honor to accompany Colonel Gaddafi

It is ex-minister of Justice Piet Hein Donner (middle left) who has the honor to accompany Colonel Gaddafi (middle right) during the inspection of the guard at Schiphol Airport, commanded by new strategic NATO commander Jeroen van der Veer (left foreground), with in the far left corner Profesor Pieter van Vollenhoven (chairman of the Transport Safety Board and member of the royal family) with his camera ready, to see to it that everything is handled correctly. Van der Veer wears the traditional green beret of the Dutch marines in his new military role at NATO, after having served with Royal Dutch Shell for three decades, last as Chief Executive Officer. Donner, who resigned in 2005 as minister of Justice after the fire in the Schiphol Detention Center that left 11 people dead - but was taken back in grace shortly after for another role of Minister of Social Affairs- wears the governmental decorations of repeated service to the nation, the 'orange earmuffs' (with the inscription: "non audi et alteram partem"). Van der Veen - in expectation of energy arrangements at the side - has instructed a multi-national battalion to unfold the standards of ENI, TOTAL and Shell as a subtle hint for the Colonel that nothing is for free in this world. The center of attention Ahmed Al-J. - the man who has recently be acquited from the charge of being responsible for the the fatallities of the detention center fire - does not attend the ceremony yet . He is waiting in his residence at the Schiphol Oost Detention center for the Colonel and his cortege arrive through the high security gate and to finally deliver him from Dutch state hospitality.

You are invited to study the above high resolution picture in all its details by clicking on it;  a new window will open that allows you to have both an overview and also to study the details by clicking once more, which will show the picture full size;  if possible try to enlarge your browser window to the maximum size; if needed use the sliding bars of your browser to pan through the big size tableau picture.

Gaddafi had pinned a color photograph of the Schiphol fire to his uniform in a demonstration that the wounds of the neglect of the migrant detenees by the Nterlands still run deep.

Gaddafi had pinned a color photograph of the Schiphol fire of the year 2005 to his uniform in a demonstration that for him the wounds of the neglect of migrant detenees by the government of the Netherlands still run deep. Gaddafi later told the journalists that this tragedy was "a cross for the Dutch Nation" without making any allusions to a tragedy that could have been called 'his own cross': the Lockerbie disaster of 1988 with its 270 casulaties. Happily minister Donner was still wearing his earmuffs at that moment, so a direct diplomatic embarrassment did not occur. Gaddafi has used similar emblematic tactics during his recent historical visit to Italy in June 2009, where he pinned to his uniform a historical photograph of Omar Al-Mukhtar, the Libyan resistance fighter during the colonial era who was hanged by the Fascist military government in Tripoli, a picture that showed Al-Mukhtar in chains at the time of his arrest in 1931. Click photograph for a full size view.

Ahmed Al-J. waiting at the gate of the Detention Center for Migrants Schiphol Oost, nicely refurbished after the disaster of October, 25 2005

Ahmed Al-J. - for years consequently keeping his privacy with minimal means - waiting at the gate of the Detention Center for Migrants Schiphol Oost (nicely refurbished after the disaster of October, 25 2005, with protective high fences and electrical wires), being confused about where and what is the inside and outside of Dutch Control Society. Click the picture for a full size view.


June 14, 2009 Italian prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Colonel Gaddafi at Ciampino airport, Rome. A step to turn several pages of the past, from the Italo-Ottoman War from 1911-194 (which war saw the first aerial bombardments in history with bombs thrown by hand by Italian pilots on human settlements), the fascist occupation and colonization of Libya in the thirties and forties of last century and the American air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 in retaliation of Libyan (at first alleged and hard to prove) involvement in a series of terrorist attacks in Europe in the previous years (Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking, Rome and Vienna airport attacks, West-Berlin disco visited by American servicemen).

xxx Click picture for full size view.

The photograph Gaddafi was wearing at his arrival in Italy in June 2009. It shows the main leader of the resistance - Omar Mukhtar (Arabic عمر المختار ‘Umar Al-Mukhtār) (1862 - September 16, 1931) - against the Italian fascist colonization with its white supremacist violent policy that started in the year 1922. Before, there had been a period of Italian competition with what remained of the Ottoman empire in the North of Africa. A period with changing alliances between tribes and occupiers developing into some sort of civil war in the end. Omar al-Makhtar (also written as Umar...) was a Cyrenaican muslim tribesman that led for several years the struggle against Italian occupation. When he was finally captured in 1931 his importance and influence was so great that the Italian general Rodolfo Graziani choose to hang him in front of 20.000 forcefully gathered tribesmen. Good statistics of the number of victims of these decades of violence are hard to find. Some indication can be derived from the statistics on the Italian policy of area control, involving a concentration camp system in which a hundred thousand Libyans were imprisoned. Historians have estimated that more than half of these prisoners did not survive and some have labeled these gruesome events the "Italian Holocaust" (**) Click photograph for full size view.

Violence from the past  needs to be acknowledged to purge the motivation to keep carrying it into the future.

Violence from the past needs to be acknowledged by the perpetrators of it, to purge the motivation to keep carrying this experience into the future by new violent acts. Comparisons of the number of victims, caused by one and another historical event, is seen as an amoral exercise by many. Nevertheless knowledge of the scale and impact of violence is essential for our understanding of causes and finding remedies. Several tens of thousands have found a violent death during the fascist Italian regime in Libya over two decades; 270 people died in a few seconds over and in the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Forty to sixty people are said to have died in the retaliation air strikes ordered by USA President Ronal Reagan in in Libya. The highjacked ship, airport attacks and disco bombing produced a total of approximate 20 dead. Click for full size view.

(*) Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi1 (Arabic: معمر القذافي‎ Mu‘ammar al-Qaḏāfī; also known simply as Colonel Gaddafi; born 7 June 1942) has been the de facto leader of Libya since a coup in 1969; some of the many alternative spellings of his name are: Gadafi, Gadhafi, Qadhafi.
(**) One of my sources on the Italian violent colonization of Libya is “The making of modern Libya: state formation, colonization, and resistance …” by Ali Abdullatif Ahmida. Several pages can directly be viewed via Googlebooks.
(**) There is a dramatized rendering of the fight against the Italian occupiers of Libya in the feature movie “Lion of the desert” with Oliver Reed and Anthony Queen; directed and prduced by Moustapha Akkad in 1979, whose fate was to be killed in the hall of an American owned  luxury hotel in Amman by a radical Islamic suicide bomb attack in 2005. It may be clear that this is – like almost all war movies – a propaganda film, this time  from a radical Islam viewpoint with a big financial aid of the Gaddafi administration, now thirty years back.

A detailed description of the movie via a link... click the picture to go there

A detailed description of the movie via a link... click the picture to go there

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