In explaining why Qaddafi got off easy, Charles Krauthammer begins:
You’ve got your Mexican standoff, your Russian roulette, your Chinese water torture. And now, your Libyan crossfire. That’s when a pistol is applied to the head and a bullet crosses from one temple to the other.
That’s apparently what happened to Moammar Gaddafi after he was captured by Libyan rebels — died in a “crossfire,” explains Libya’s new government. This has greatly agitated ACLU types, morally unemployed ever since a Democratic administration declared Guantanamo humane. The indignation has spread to human rights groups and Western governments, deeply concerned about the manner of Gaddafi’s demise.
The jab at the ACLU is worth reading twice. More importantly though, he then offers a defense of not always fighting for justice. Qaddafi could have chosen to flee to Saudi Arabia or Nicaragua and accept asylum. But would it have been just or wise to accept that fate for Qaddafi?
In post-Pinochet Chile and post-apartheid South Africa, it was decided that full justice — punishing the guilty — would be sacrificed in order to preserve the fragile social peace of the new democracy.
The former oppressors having agreed to a peaceful relinquishing of power, full justice might have ignited renewed civil strife. Therefore, these infant democracies settled for mere truth: a meticulous accounting of the crimes of the previous regime. In return for truthful testimony, perpetrators were given amnesty.
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.
I spoke to a co-worker a few days ago who describes himself as a “big lefty.” He had his thoughts on what should have happened to Qaddafi, but said he thought groups like Amnesty International were “crazy” for complaining about Muammar’s ultimate fate. He and Krauthammer (and many others) agree: it’s not a big deal.