|This image of a dead
Col. Gaddafi was captured on a mobile phone camera by French photographer
Philippe Desmazes for Getty —
The circumstances of the death of former Libyan leader
Col. Muammar Gaddafi remain unclear. Preliminary reports suggested NATO
aircraft struck Gaddafi's convoy near Sirte early on Thursday (20.10.2011), but
he and a few others escaped on foot and were eventually caught and killed by a
unit of fighters from the National Transitional Council. Gaddafi's burial was
delayed ahead of an outside investigation into the circumstances of his death.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO had
successfully completed its operation and would soon end its mission in Libya. To
talk more about the situation in Libya, Democracy Now! went to Sirte to
speak with Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch. "This
is a very unfortunate way to start the first chapter of the new Libya, with this
very brutal killing," Bouckaert said. "It certainly is already a stain on
the record of the new Libya... Justice should be done in a courtroom and not by
street mob rule." [includes rush transcript]
Graphic images of a blood-drenched and shaken Muammar Gaddafi have been
circulating around the world after the Libyan dictator's death near his hometown
of Sirte yesterday. The images show the former Libyan leader being dragged
around by angry fighters, his face and clothes bloodstained. There were scenes
of jubilation in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and other areas across Libya
as news of his dramatic death spread.
LIBYAN REBEL: [translated]
Thanks to God, everything is in order so far. The big joy has been completed.
Now we are looking forward to building this country, and have a rest. And God
willing, it will be very good.
AMY GOODMAN: The former Libyan
leader was killed eight months after the first protests erupted against his
42-year-long rule. The circumstances of his death are not yet clear. Preliminary
reports suggest NATO aircraft struck Gaddafi's convoy near Sirte early on
Thursday, but he and a few others escaped on foot and were eventually caught and
killed by a unit of fighters from the National Transitional Council. Spokesman
of Libya's military council, Ahmed Bani, said the world would not blame Libyan
troops for killing Gaddafi.
AHMED BANI: They met him. Our
revolutionaries, our troops, met him. He tried—he tried to resist them, so they
killed him. And I'm sure that the world will never blame us. They will never
blame our troops. The most important thing is that Gaddafi is killed. How, it's
not so important.
AMY GOODMAN: Now the Associated Press reports
Gaddafi's burial has been delayed ahead of an outside investigation into the
circumstances of his death. The NTC had planned for Gaddafi to be buried at an
undisclosed location Friday. However, Mohamed Sayeh said a "third party will
come from outside of Libya to go through the paperwork." That third party could
be the International Criminal Court. For now, it's likely Gaddafi's body will
remain in Misurata, the western city to which it was taken after he was captured
in Sirte, initially alive.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh
Rasmussen said NATO had successfully completed its operation and would soon end
its mission in Libya.
SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:
After 42 years, Colonel Gaddafi's rule of fear has come to an end. Finally,
Libya can close this long, dark chapter in its history and turn over a new page.
NATO and its partners have successfully implemented the United Nations mandate
to protect the people of Libya. We will terminate our mission in coordination
with the United Nations and the National Transitional Council. And that moment
has now moved much closer. And now I call on all Libyans to put aside their
differences and work together to build a brighter future.
That was NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaking yesterday in
France. President Obama referred to it as a, quote, "momentous day" in Libyan
history, and said the United States and its allies worked successfully with the
Libyan people to put an end to Gaddafi's dictatorship.
BARACK OBAMA: Faced with the potential of mass atrocities and a call for
help from the Libyan people, the United States and our friends and allies
stopped Gaddafi's forces in their tracks. A coalition that included the United
States, NATO and Arab nations persevered through the summer to protect Libyan
civilians. And meanwhile, the courageous Libyan people fought for their own
future and broke the back of the regime. So this is a momentous day in the
history of Libya.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the situation in
Libya, we're going directly to Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte to talk to Peter
Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch's emergencies director. He's joining us on the
Peter, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us exactly what is
understood what happened in Sirte yesterday with the death of Muammar
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I was in Sirte yesterday, and we
were working, shortly after midnight, through very heavy bombardment coming from
the rebels. At about 10:00, we went downtown and found the rebels celebrating
their complete victory. They had taken control of the last stronghold. And soon
thereafter, after I went to the hospital, a man arrived with a golden pistol and
said he had just taken it from Muammar Gaddafi and that Muammar Gaddafi had been
We went back to the scene this morning and found at least 95
bodies laying in this area where this final gun battle took place. We spoke to
one of the commanders at the scene whose base is just across the street. He
said, at about 8:30 yesterday morning, a group of 50 vehicles, with about 300
people on it, tried to break out of Sirte. They attacked the rebel base where he
was based. NATO then intervened and bombed the convoy. But it was a very bloody
battle, which lasted for about three hours. He saw Gaddafi being taken alive
from the scene, but being beaten by rebels, as—
AMY GOODMAN: We
are talking to Peter Bouckaert, and we may have just been cut off. Let's see if
we can get him back. He is with Human Rights Watch, and he is in
Peter, are you there?
Peter Bouckaert spent the night just
outside of Sirte and is describing to us what he understood happened yesterday.
We'll go to a break, and then we'll come back. This news out of Yemen: the
burial of Muammar Gaddafi has been delayed pending an investigation and autopsy.
Peter Bouckaert will be joining us in a moment, Human Rights Watch's emergency
director. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We have Peter
Bouckaert back on the line with us in Sirte, Human Rights Watch's emergencies
director. We're going to try to get in as much as we can with you—I know this is
a tough line—Peter, before we lose you again. Describe again what you understood
yesterday. You said something like 95 bodies?
Yes, we found 95 bodies still laying where the battle had taken place
yesterday. Many of them were burned beyond recognition from the NATO strike. But
at least some of the bodies appeared to have been executed in the aftermath of
We also talked to the rebel commander, who said that when
they found Muammar Gaddafi, rebel—different rebel factions started fighting over
who would take him away. Local people and rebels started attacking Gaddafi and
pulling out his hair. At some point, he was put on the hood of a vehicle that
tried to drive him away, and he fell off. So it must have been quite a
[inaudible] Gaddafi. He certainly was alive when he left the scene, and there
needs to be an investigation into exactly what happened shortly thereafter,
before he arrived in Misurata.
AMY GOODMAN: There are reports that
he was shot twice in the legs before being shot in the head. Is that what you
PETER BOUCKAERT: Yes, he certainly had been wounded
already when he was found by the rebel fighters. From the information that we
have at the scene of the battle, he was not shot further after he was captured.
But there certainly needs to be an independent autopsy and an investigation into
exactly how he died. Many questions remain unanswered about the exact
AMY GOODMAN: It was a French missile in the NATO—it
was a French missile that hit his convoy. Is that what you
PETER BOUCKAERT: Yes, we can't confirm it's a French
missile, but certainly NATO did intervene and fire missiles. At that time, there
were about three separate clusters of fighters, Gaddafi loyalists, attacking
this base, and NATO did intervene at about 9:30 yesterday to strike those
convoys. And then the gun battle still continued for about an hour and a half.
It's important to stress that there already was an armed confrontation between
this fleeing convoy and the rebels when NATO intervened, so it's not like NATO
acted to stop this convoy. It already was engaged with the rebels at that
AMY GOODMAN: Here in the United States, it has become a
political story. You have the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who hailed the
death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but has chastised Congress for its
hesitance to assist anti-Gaddafi Libyan rebels and for—he has criticized
President Barack Obama's use of U.S. military resources to assist in the air
strikes. He criticized that attack on Obama. He said, "I'm very disappointed in
Congress," a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. "Congress took an
irrational view of the War Powers Act. I guarantee you that a lot of Republicans
who wanted the War Power Act invoked would not have asked for it to be invoked
if President Obama were not president. To me, national security should be as
bipartisan as possible." But Republicans were saying that this was not Obama
taking the lead, and they were criticizing him for this, along with Chuck
Grassley, the senator. They were saying that we can thank the British and the
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I think it's fair to say that, at
the NATO level, the French and the British did take a lead. President Obama
certainly found himself within very tight political constraints acting in Libya.
Human Rights Watch is a neutral organization, both politically and in terms of
military intervention. We did not endorse this military intervention. But
certainly, from our conversations with the Obama administration, we came away
convinced that they did act out of humanitarian concerns in Libya, that they
acted to stop a massacre from occurring in Benghazi, and then they found
themselves in quite a difficult situation when it became clear that the rebels,
by their own, would not be able to overcome what was still a very powerful
military. So, I do think we need to have some understanding for those difficult
political circumstances that the Obama administration found itself
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Bouckaert, can you talk about the killing
of Gaddafi? Can you talk about the video of him being dragged through the
street, the bloody images of his head?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, they
are very disturbing images, and it's certainly important that these events are
fully investigated. Speaking to a lot of the rebels here, they justified how
Muammar Gaddafi was treated in terms of the brutality he inflicted on his own
people. And my response to them was that this is a very unfortunate way to start
the first chapter of the new Libya, with this very brutal killing. It certainly
is already a stain on the record of the new Libya, and we hope that the
circumstances of his death gets fully investigated and that the Transitional
Council acts to prevent further acts of vengeance. It's important that justice
is done for the last 42 years, but that justice should be done in a courtroom
and not by street mob rule.
AMY GOODMAN: I'm looking at a piece by
Horace Campbell, a professor of African studies, who said that Gaddafi's
killing, with "all the hallmarks of a coordinated assassination," marks "one
more episode in this NATO war in Libya and North Africa." The "remilitarization
of Africa and new deployment of Africom is a new stage of African politics," he
says. Your response, Peter Bouckaert?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well,
that's certainly not our impression on the ground. It appears that Gaddafi was
killed not in terms of a coordinated attempt to have him assassinated by the
rebel leadership, but rather a situation that got out of control. But it is very
important that the rebel authorities, now the new government in Libya, act
quickly to stop the many armed groups that are operating in Libya from carrying
out these kind of abuses. I was in the city of Bani Walid a few days ago, just
after it fell, and we saw widespread looting and destruction there, as well.
There's entire towns, like the town of Tawergha, which is a town of black
Libyans just south of Misurata, which are still abandoned because people are not
allowed to return to their homes, because they're accused of being Gaddafi
loyalists. And it's that legacy and that challenge that now confronts the new
Libyan government. And it's really in the next few months, through their
actions, that they will decide the future of this country.
GOODMAN: Peter Bouckaert, can you talk about your sense of the government
now, the different competing forces of the National Transition Council, and
where you think it's headed?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, the National
Transitional Council had a lot of influence and power in eastern Libya, where
the revolt started. But they're confronted with a much more complex situation in
the west. Many of the towns in the west feel that they fought for their own
freedom, especially towns like Zintan and Misurata, who suffered very heavy
casualties during the war, and they feel they want to dictate their own future.
So, it will be very difficult for the Transitional Council to assert its
authority over these different cities, and especially over the fighters from
these different cities. They have a real challenge ahead.
the president of the council, is due to give an address this afternoon in
Benghazi, announcing the fall of Sirte and the beginning of the running of the
clock towards elections. So there will be very significant political changes in
Libya over the next few months.
Another challenge is the role of the
Islamists in the future government. Islamists have played a very important role
in the fighting. They're some of the key rebel commanders, including in Tripoli,
which is headed by a man who was rendered by the CIA to Libya. And we hope that
those Islamists, who—as long as they commit themselves to respecting human
rights and a plurality of views, will not be sidelined from a future
administration and will be given the opportunity to show that they are willing
to participate in a democratic system. But they, of course, have to—it is
important that their behavior is monitored, especially when it comes to issues
such as women's rights and the rights of Sufis in Libya, who have some religious
practices which are frowned upon by some of the Islamist group.
GOODMAN: There were scenes in Syria of people cheering when they heard about
the death of Muammar Gaddafi. What do you think this means for the leaders in
Syria, Bashar al-Assad, what it means for Yemen, for Saleh?
BOUCKAERT: Well, certainly it sends a very strong message to the leaders in
Syria and Yemen that their repressive rule will not be tolerated forever and
that there is quite a sordid end for them if they do not meet the people's
demands in terms of human rights and democratic governance. It's clear that
after many, many months of military repression in Syria, protesters have still
not given up, and Bashar al-Assad's clock certainly is ticking. And it does
appear that the fall of the Gaddafi government, the liberation of Sirte, has
given a boost to the protesters in Yemen and in Syria. You know, but I think it
is a bitter—it is a victory with a bitter aftertaste. The bloodshed which ended
this final battle in Sirte is certainly to be regretted, and it is a stain on
this otherwise very remarkable victory by the revolutionaries in
AMY GOODMAN: And what this means for Bahrain, the U.S.
saying they'd maybe hold off on the latest shipment of weapons to Bahrain,
considering what the government is doing to its people, trying doctors and
nurses for helping wounded protesters, for example? What message does this send
to them, and to Saudi Arabia, which is backing them up?
BOUCKAERT: Well, Human Rights Watch has been very concerned about the
situation in Bahrain for months now, the kind of repression and torture in
prisons. We've documented several cases of people who have died in prison
because of maltreatment. And these very small trials of people, of medics, who
are just carrying out their medical duties, certainly are very
We've also been concerned for months that the Obama
administration [inaudible] when it came to Bahrain, in terms of not really
speaking out strongly about the very serious human rights abuses there. So it is
a positive step that this latest arms shipment has now been
And I think the message to the rulers across the Middle East
is that the kind of repression that they're used to practice simply will no
longer be tolerated, and won't be tolerated by their own people, but it also
won't be tolerated anymore by the international community.
GOODMAN: And finally, Peter Bouckaert—and again, I want to tell our viewers
and listeners Peter is speaking to us from Sirte, from where Muammar Gaddafi was
killed—what this whole last months in Libya means for so-called humanitarian
intervention as a strategy?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, the concept of
humanitarian intervention, the use of military force to protect people, suffered
a very sharp blow in Afghanistan and Iraq, when the concept was misused by the
Bush administration. Certainly, I do think that both France and the U.S. did
initially intervene in Libya with a humanitarian intent. According to my own
discussions with Obama and Sarkozy officials, it was very clear that they were
deeply concerned about the civilian population of the country and what would
happen if Benghazi was attacked. But they found themselves in a very difficult
position at the end of the day, because they were faced with an ineffective
rebel force, and they had to go far beyond their original mandate. Originally
they had intended to draw a line in the sand around Benghazi to protect—to
prevent Gaddafi forces from retaking Benghazi. But at the end of the day, they
ended up fighting much of the war for the rebels from the air and carrying out
attacks up to the last day, up until this last strike that ended up with the
death of Muammar Gaddafi.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, what this
means, the fact that Libya has oil? Is that why the U.S., France, Britain
intervened in Libya in a way that they didn't in other countries? In fact, in
Bahrain, only until recently, supporting the leadership there, which has been so
brutal in repressing its own people, but it's where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I certainly think that the countries
who led the intervention in Libya will be receiving serious benefits in terms of
preferential treatment for oil contracts. I think it's a quite simplistic view
to say that the West intervened in Libya just because of oil. Maybe I'm naive,
but according to my own discussions with Obama officials and French officials,
their interest was much more humanitarian in nature.
I think the question
of the oil is much more important for Libya's future, because, unlike
Afghanistan and even Iraq, Libya has the resources to rebuild the country and to
build real democratic institutions. Those resources were abused in the past.
They were spent by corrupt Gaddafi family members and spent all over Africa to
shore up support for Gaddafi. But if they are used at home, they certainly could
build a much more prosperous and democratic and human-rights-respectful
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Bouckaert, we want to thank you for
spending this time with us, speaking to us on a strained line, but ever
important, as he speaks to us from Sirte, the hometown of Gaddafi, where he was
killed yesterday. Peter Bouckaert is Human Rights Watch's emergencies director.
And of course, we will continue to follow what happens. The burial of Muammar
Gaddafi has been put off for an investigation to be done about how he