How Did Gaddafi Die? A Year Later, Unanswered Questions and Bad Blood

A year after Libya's long-ruling despot Muammar Gaddafi was cornered and killed by rebel forces, questions remain over the nature of his death and its legacy for the fractious, fledgling Libyan state

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Manu Brabo / AP

A revolutionary fighter zips a body bag containing one of nearly 30 bodies of Gadhafi loyalists killed in Sirte, Libya, during the city's fall on Oct. 22, 2011.

It’s been a year since the world was transfixed by the extraordinary video of Muammar Gaddafi, sitting bloodied and cowering in his hometown of Sirt, as he faced his imminent death, while Libyan rebels pummeled him with rifle butts and boots. Within minutes his 42-year dictatorship, and the seven-month civil war, was over.

But what exactly happened that day—Oct. 20, 2011?

One year on, there are still troubling questions about how Gaddafi died, as well as how dozens of his loyalists were apparently executed in captivity that day—a war crime, if proved, committed by Libya‘s rebels. Beyond simply how the history of the Libyan Revolution is written, the disputed details over what happened that day still fuels the explosive violence, one year on, seen between the vengeful remnants of Gaddafi’s loyalists and the patchwork of militias who won the war.

First, the official version: The night Gaddafi was killed, then-Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told me in Tripoli that his death had been an accident, and that rebels had fully intended bringing him back alive. “There was cross-fire and he was shot while they were carrying him to a truck,” Jibril told me in an interview. “He did not resist, although he had a small pistol.”

(MORE: How Gaddafi died—the interim Prime Minister’s version.)

One year on, that version seems incorrect—constructed, perhaps, because the turmoil at the time muddied the truth, or perhaps because the truth would run counter to international law and Western sensitivities.

Drawing on extensive interviews with both rebels and Gaddafi supporters, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Wednesday that Gaddafi was in fact killed after his capture—a war crime under international treaties, which outlaw the killing of enemy prisoners. Human Rights Watch says in its report that Gaddafi had already been wounded when he was captured (clear on the video), from a grenade thrown by one of his own bodyguards that exploded in his midst, killing his defense minister Abu Bakr Younis next to him. Bleeding heavily from his injury, Gaddafi was also weak and exhausted, having eaten and drunk little in days, and appeared in poor shape to resist rebel blows. “Our findings call into question the assertion by Libyan authorities that Muammar Gaddafi was killed in crossfire, and not after his capture,” Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, said on Wednesday.

Ironically, Gaddafi might have escaped Sirt had it not been for a decision to take wounded loyalists with him. According to Human Rights Watch’s interviews, what was supposed to be a pre-dawn operation in the dark turned into a lengthy maneuver in broad daylight, involving a large convoy of vehicles that NATO quickly spotted from the air and fired on. Gaddafi’s fifth son Mutassim, who had led the regime’s battle for Sirt, was captured by Misratah militia and driven to that city—which had a withstood a brutal siege by Gaddafi forces—where he was executed in captivity.

Now the question is whether the rebels have brought Gaddafi back alive to stand trial. The answer remains unclear, since fighters who had suffered decades of Gaddafi’s dictatorship all started to thrash him, with one stabbing him in his anus with a bayonet—a wound that might have caused a fatal loss of blood, according to Human Rights Watch interviews.

Yet despite the turmoil, Libya’s rebel leaders were in phone contact with the fighters on the scene from their Benghazi headquarters—a fact that was not clear at the time. That raises questions about whether or not they pushed to get Gaddafi back alive. Ali Tarhouni, who’d been Jibril’s deputy when Gaddafi was killed, said that a government official in their Benghazi headquarters had called Gaddafi’s captors, and handed the telephone to him. “I got the person right next to him [Gaddafi],” he told me in a phone interview on Wednesday, recalling that extraordinary moment. “He was still alive.” Tarhouni did not say whether the order was to bring Gaddafi in alive, since the call was to confirm that the rumors of his capture were true.

One year on, in fact, Libyan leaders—who have since held the country’s first free elections in decades—express huge relief that Gaddafi was killed. Most are convinced that a Gaddafi trial would have complicated their ability to rebuild the country after decades of dictatorship. As it is, the new leaders have sputtered along for a year, feuding among themselves and unable to bring the country’s myriad armed factions under national control. And besides, there was virtually no appetite among ordinary Libyans to see the dictator given a fair hearing in court. “There was a serene relief,” says Jalal el-Gallal, the wartime spokesman for the rebels’ National Transitional Council, recalling the atmosphere inside their Benghazi headquarters that day, when they realized Gaddafi was dead. “We needed to move on, and Gaddafi, by dying, made that easier.”

But what of the scores of others who were killed that day? Human Rights Watch says at least 66 Gaddafi loyalists appear to have been “summarily executed” as unarmed prisoners in Sirt during the hours after Gaddafi’s death on Oct. 20. The organization analyzed phone video shot by rebels who brought the remaining loyalists back to Sirt’s Mahari Hotel, and then compared those in captivity to the decomposing bodies a Human Rights Watch team had examined at the hotel after the massacre. Before shooting them, says the report, rebels took their weapons from them, and “after bringing them under their total control, subjected them to brutal beatings.”

Neither Libyan leaders nor the International Criminal Court have investigated the shooting in custody of Gaddafi’s remaining fighters, nor the details of Gaddafi’s death or the apparent execution of his son Motassim. That, says Human Rights Watch, is a mistake which could haunt Libya’s new leaders, as they attempt to stabilize the country and bring under their control the many militia groups, including the powerful Misratah brigade which caught Gaddafi. “One of Libya’s greatest challenges is to bring its well-armed militias under control and end their abuses,” Bouckaert said. “A good first step would be to investigate the mass executions of October 20, 2011, the most serious abuse by opposition forces documented so far.”

24 comments
imspam2010
imspam2010

Written in Paris of course.  Is that where the special operations unit of French Intelligence is located? After all, French agents mixed with the crowd and killed MG.


imspam2010
imspam2010

The tag line is pure BS and disinformation. The rebel forces did not kill Gaddhafi unless you consider French Special Operations Intelligence agents as rebel forces. But that might be closer to the truth as it was USA, UK, and France that equipped, trained, and mobilized, and coordinated the rebel forces in Libya and  including the later use of chemical weapons in Syria . The rebels were Nato operatives.

INDIANA8JONES8
INDIANA8JONES8

EVEN THOUGH GADDAFI HAS BEEN DEMONIZED BY HIS ENEMIES, THE TRUTH IS THAT LYBIA  AND HIS CITIZENS, ENJOYED A VERY GOOD STANDARD OF LIVING THANKS TO HIM....DICTATOR OR NOT, HE HAD THE STRONG CHARACTER NEEDED TO MAINTAIN ORDER AND DISCIPLINE IN  SUCH A COMPLICATED SCENARIO AS THE LYBIAN IDIOSYNCHRASY IS....PERHAPS GADAFFI WAS FAR FROM PERFECT (WHO IS?) BUT,CERTAINLY, HE HAD A VISION OF GREATNESS FOR LYBIA AND AFRICA....IT IS TOO BAD THAT FOREING DARK FORCES FELT THREATENED BY GADDAFI´S AMBITIONS TO MAKE AFRICA INDEPENDENT....BY KILLING THE MAN, THE LEADER, THEY KILLED THE HOPE OF MANY AFRICANS TO GROW STRONGER AND FREE....YES, GADDAFI WAS A BIT ´´EXCESSIVE´´ AND YES, HE MADE MISTAKES....THE BIGGEST MISTAKE HE MADE WAS TRYING TO BECOME CLOSER AND FRIENDLIER WITH SOME WESTERN POLITICIANS....BY TRUSTING TREACHEROUS CHARACTERS, SUCH AS SARKOZY, TO CITE ONLY AN EXAMPLE, GADDAFI WAS SETTING HIMSELF UP FOR  A TROJAN HORSE TRAGEDY....LYBIA HAS BEEN DEVASTATED....ALL THE ECONOMIC PROGRESS ACHIEVED DURING THE 42 YEARS OF GADDAFI´S RULING, HAS GONE DOWN THE DRAIN....DEATH, MISERY,VIOLENCE,CHAOS, THAT IS LYBIA NOW....AND I WONDER:  WAS IT WORTH IT?  OF COURSE, FOR THE FEW ONES THAT PLUNDERED THE COUNTRY,  IT  WAS WORTH IT....BUT FOR THE PEOPLE, THE COMMON CITIZEN,THE HUNDREDS OF DEAD OR MUTILATED  INNOCENT CHILDREN, IT WAS NOT....SOME OF THE CRIMINALS THAT ATTACKED GADDAFI HAVE ALREADY BEEN KILLED....JUSTICE SOMETIMES TAKES TIME....TIME TO TIME....HISTORY WILL DO THE REST....

CitizenDavis
CitizenDavis

Kadafi helped ANC , unless for him Nelson Madela would have died in jail. False liberation of South Africa wouldn't have happened. Kadafi was not the darkest devil. He made a major mistake of trusting the looters = neocolonialists .

lweba
lweba

'Terrorist' murdered by the West of whom some we do not have credible evidence of their crimes are not being defended by these 'Arm Chair Human Rights Activists', but the death of one man with undisputable evidence of his notorious murder of his political opponents raising so much uproar. I sometimes wonder whether these 'Activists', the noise they make whether is always on genuine issues or for the sake of just to be heard they are still around, sometimes we think perhaps it is just to make it be known to the public and their paymasters that they are doing something when there is nothing to complain about.

Belkhir Tahiri
Belkhir Tahiri

اٍن لله و اٍن اٍليه راجعون , الهم أنصر الحق

Henry Azuchukwuka Nezianya
Henry Azuchukwuka Nezianya

The question would have be why did the world allowed him to stay so long?The death of Gaddafi is not so much a suprised because libayan

Trix Major
Trix Major

I CALl HIM A HERO B'COZ HE FOUGHT WITH THE WORLDZ SUPPER POWER COUNTRIES AND HIS OWN PEOPLE AND THE MASENARIES FROM DIFFERENT CORNERS OF THE WORLD , ALL THAT MAKES HIM A HERO (MANY AGAINST ONE "" XO UN~FAIR") LEADERZ LIKE SACOZY THOUGHT THEY COULD GAIN POLITICAL STRENGTH THROUGH LIBYA INSIDENCE BUT THEY ENDED UP LOOSING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION B'COZ OF UN~WISE DECISION N INVOLMENT IN THE WAR,

Trix Major
Trix Major

don be so dumb guyz ! he wazn't that evil but some people made him look that way , and because they killed him their will never be a stable peace and good harmony in Libya to internity , and this will not only affect Libyans bt the entire world, and as one of start ups was the killing of the US ambassodor and all people existed inside the embasy R.I.P Christopher(ambasodor) n soldiers , @Clinton & Geraldo.!!

Trix Major
Trix Major

it'z because of the selfishness and desire to dominate the African,Latin America, Balkanz, and the Asia(arabz) for economic, & political interest . and the worldz Tyrant is the U.S, b'cos she is the catalist of the worlds problem as she seeks success. GADDAFI WAZ A GUD MAN N I WILL 4EVER REMEMBER N RESPECT HIM AS I DO WITH Y.ARRAFAT OF PAKISTAN ,BOTH WERE GUD MEN & LOYAL R.I.P TO ALL, @ Eraldo!!

Geraldo Dias
Geraldo Dias

I agree with you, Mr. Clinton. Tyrants must go to hell!

Kyle Clinton
Kyle Clinton

Who cares as long as that worthless retardedly weird dictator is gone. I imagine this is a day Libyans will celebrate for years to come.

Eraldo Eraldo
Eraldo Eraldo

in some nations people are not made for living in democracy!half of south america, russia, china, almost the whole africa and middle east, balkans.... why we try to make all the globe living as we do?

Philip Dias
Philip Dias

He was summarily executed...but no one cares, and the new libyan state is just waiting for all the hype to die down...

Ashutosh Singh
Ashutosh Singh

If you like intellectual and quality humour,you will like this page.And that's a promise. www.facebook.com/SatirEinstein

imspam2010
imspam2010

@INDIANA8JONES8  Spot on. The real issue is that Flight 103 Lockerbie was a CIA drug flight gone bad. It was the Beirut-Frankfurt-onward route. The heroin was changed out for a B*mb. 5 CIA officers/DEA were investigating the Beirut drug route and they were personally going to Washington to raise the issue with their superiors.  The bomb trigger that fingered Libya was actually planted evidence 6 months after the fact by the FBI crime lab which some special agents called it a Crime Scene in its own right.  When sufficient evidence came forth shoaling that not only was Libya not involved in the bombing of flight 103, but that US operatives had cooked evidence to finger Libya, and that  evidence was now going to go to the International Criminal Court, The US, UK, and France got rid of the trouble maker (MG).  The US blocked Libya from going to ICC to exonerate itself as more and more evidence of intrigue and cover up by Nato and US surfaced.  The US, UK, and France sent special operations folks to Libya to stir up an uprising. In the process stinger missile stock piles went missing. (No coincidence that MH 370 dropped out of the sky,,, piece of cake). Chris Stevens the US Amb in Libya was going to expose the missing missiles. Instead, Hillary and BHO silenced him. Just like they are trying to take out Mr Assad in Syria. Who wins? Those who make money in drugs and war.


imspam2010
imspam2010

@gaddafDOTly  French special operations agents killed him. so much for the fantasy rebel story.