“Under the normal rule of law, truth is only a means for achieving justice, not an end in itself. The real end is determining guilt and assigning punishment. But in war and revolution one cannot have everything. Justice might threaten peace. Therefore peace trumps full justice. Gaddafi could have had such a peace-over-justice compromise. He chose instead to fight to the death. He got what he chose. That fateful decision to fight — and kill — is the prism through which to judge the cruel treatment Gaddafi received in his last hours. It is his refusal to forgo those final crimes, those final shellings of civilians, those final executions of prisoners that justifies his rotten death.”
—- Charles Krauthammer, revered conservative columnist and pundit, in his column rebutting the complaints of human rights activists regarding the rebel execution that took Moammar Gaddafi’s life.
Krauthammer is right, and he is wrong. He is right that no one should feel any pity for Gaddafi, a brutal and inhuman despot who had it entirely within his own power to both save his own life and refrain from killing even more of his countrymen than he had killed already. He is wrong that Gaddafi’s crimes and cruelty suspend civilization’s principles of justice and ethics. The Libyan dictator deserved to die…indeed, he deserved to be tied down in a tidal pool where he’d be nibbled to death by crabs, like Tony Curtis in “The Vikings,” while being defecated on by flaming dysentery sufferers, to the ear-shattering strains of a Hannah Montana song played over and over again on a scratchy LP. But human beings are obligated to treat every other human being, even monsters, justly, fairly and without cruelty. Monsters do not give us leave to behave monstrously. Gaddafi was captured and helpless, and the war was over: the only ethical course was to take him into custody without beating a defenseless man, and give him a trial.
Sometimes an individual can get what he deserves, but get it in the wrong way. That was the situation here. The human rights activists were correct to remind us that Gaddafi’s treatment was wrong, and we should acknowledge that.
Now let’s party.
I do want to salute Krauthammer for parting company with many of his conservative colleagues over U.S. support of anti-Gaddafi forces. A disgraceful number of pundits on the right are pointing to reports that the new regime is likely to install a rigid Islamic theocracy as proof that we backed the wrong horse. As I have written before, this is an unethical and anti-democratic position. Gaddafi was a ruthless tyrant, and his people rose up to dispose of him. By core American principles, they had that right, and the U.S. had only one ethical choice, given its mission: support them. And if the new government makes poor decisions, or embraces values and policies that we deplore, that choice was still the correct one.