Muammar Qadhafi may have been captured alive in Sirte, but it wasn't long before his dead body was being paraded through the streets of Misrata, a town pulverized by Qadhafi loyalists. The United Nations is predictably demanding an investigation into his alleged summary execution by forces loyal to Libya's new government. The UN's outrage is misplaced, though. We should all be glad Qadhafi is dead.
International justice has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which trials last years and justice is seldom served. Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević died in prison more than four years after his trial began. Liberian dictator Charles Taylor first appeared before the Special Court for Sierra Leone on April 3, 2006; there is still no verdict. While Western diplomats believe a trial provides catharsis and allows for a new beginning, the opposite is actually true: Trials infect open wounds and seldom promote healing. True reconciliation requires beginning with a clean slate. Before his own death and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's capture, Hume Horan, the State Department's most talented Arabist of the past 50 years, spoke of the importance of seeing Saddam dead rather than on trial. "So long as his pug marks can be seen in the morning around our campfire, Iraqis will not sleep soundly," Horan wrote in a November 2003 email, adding, "He must be killed… We can pooh-pooh the likelihood of his ever making a comeback. But just that simple word 'comeback' must bring on a fainting spell for the likes of Governor [Iskandar] Witwit [of Hillah], who saw his brother's head hacked off in front of him."
The international justice industry should back off. It is too infected with its own agenda. When Saddam was captured and put on trial, Human Rights Watch (HRW) refused to provide the Iraqi prosecutors with evidence it had gathered about chemical attacks on Kurds unless the Iraqis agreed to waive capital punishment. HRW might believe they are enlightened, but Iraqis simply saw them for what they were: armchair imperialists.
Perhaps the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wants to investigate the circumstances of Qadhafi's death; bureaucrats always want to feel relevant, and tilting at windmills is a UN pastime. But the first question he should ask is if his expensive quest will enable reconciliation or hamper it, and whether justice is best served by Westerners in three-piece suits, or by the Libyans themselves who have put a definitive end to their 42-year nightmare.