Friday, October 21, 2011

Another One Down

Another one killed.
This time it was Muammar Qaddafi (or Gaddafi or Gadhafi or Kadafi or Khadafy or Qadaffi or however the hell you want to transliterate it) shot after he was captured.*
And there was, again, rejoicing - though in this country nothing on the scale of the cheers that greeted the murder of Osama bin Laden.  But in Libya the cheers and the gawkers.

In Lockerbie a toast.
From Obama, per the National Journal.
Responding to news out of Libya that the ousted leader had been killed, the president congratulated the Libyan people for triumphing over the dictator who'd ruled the North African country for over forty years.
Let's pause for a second.
Qadaffi (or however you spell it) was murdered.  (Patrick called it a "lynching," which isn't wrong.)  He didn't go down fighting.  He wasn't killed after some plausible judicial process.  He was gunned down after being captured.
Maybe he deserved to die.  Maybe he deserved to be killed.
But he was alive.
Now he's dead.
Andrew Bolt in the Melbourne Herald Sun who thinks even anti-death-penalty Australians (and Australia doesn't have a death penalty) "probably even cheered."
Why do we applaud the execution of Gaddafi, but denounce the idea of killing the worst of our own mass murderers and psychopaths?
True, we may argue that we can keep our worst locked up so they'll never hurt anyone else. We may argue that hanging a child killer probably won't stop the next. We may also argue that executing a criminal also comes at a cost of being brutal ourselves.
But we're still weighing costs and benefits. And Gaddafi reminds us that sometimes the scales do tip towards the bullet.
Or not.  But I get his point.  Because as soon as you start arguing about whether this or that killing was justified, you're allowing for the possibility, even the certainty, that some killing is. Not Qaddafi?  Fair enough. How about Stalin? Hitler? Pol Pot? Nero? Caligula? John Wayne Gacy?  Bernie Madoff?
Who? Where?
How do you measure?
Who do you kill?
Not who do you want to kill.  Who do you?  And are you better for it?
Are any of us?
Muammar Qaddafi is dead.
I'm sorry.  That's not a cause for rejoicing.  Not ever. 

* By a New York Yankee fan according to the Post


  1. You don't think there's a difference between the planned assassination by one government of another leader, or more egregiously, of one of its own citizens abroad, and the killing of a dictator in a revolution? I'm usually with you 110%, but on this issue I have to differ. He wasn't a prisoner of war of another nation, he was a deposed tyrant. It's not as if any trial they held would have been a tribute to the rule of law. This was a political killing, not a combat or criminal one.

  2. I don't know that any two killings are really equivalent, and there are differences, certainly, among formal assassinating a sitting head of state, a head of anything else, killing a person just declared killable, executing a prisoner after full legal process, executing someone after faux legal process, killing an enemy soldier on the battlefield, killing civilians as collateral damage during a bombing raid say, and garden variety murder.

    What they all have in common is that someone ends up dead.

    There's no limit to the extent of plausible argument about whether this or that killing was justified or about which offense is worse than which other offense (or better, I suppose). But I'm altogether comfortable with the basic claim that Qadaffi was murdered. (Whether it was an assassination or a "political killing" or an extra-judicial execution or whatever, he wasn't killing during battle; it wasn't self defense, it certainly wasn't the Rule of Law in action.)

    And regardless of how it happened and what moral measure it deserves, rejoicing in killing seems to me altogether and always wrong.