'Oh the relief! I never felt that happy about somebody being dead." Those words from a rebel fighter who'd been among Libyan madman Moammar Gadhafi's victims sum up the sentiments of most of that North African nation and perhaps the world. It may not be proper etiquette to celebrate anyone's demise, but you emphatically do not mourn the death of a monster.
"Oh the relief! I never felt that happy about somebody being dead."
Those words from a rebel fighter who'd been among Libyan madman Moammar Gadhafi's victims sum up the sentiments of most of that North African nation and perhaps the world. It may not be proper etiquette to celebrate anyone's demise, but you emphatically do not mourn the death of a monster.
From a U.S. perspective, of course, Gadhafi's alleged role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, killing 270 people - 189 of them Americans - makes his death no cause for tears. Certainly he was not shy about tapping his oil-derived fortunes to bankroll terrorist organizations across the globe. But the chronicled atrocities against his own people are in some ways in a league of their own. Especially vivid was a description in the New York Times of him having students hanged in Tripoli's main square, where their corpses were left to swing and rot for a week, with traffic rerouted to guarantee no driver could pass without seeing them. In another incident, his followers opened fire on the inmates of a Tripoli prison, massacring some 1,200. The list goes on and on. Those barbarities were routinely televised so the Libyan people would entertain no doubts about what they were up against. In short, if there is a hell, Gadhafi is in it.
If at the beginning of his 42-year reign his leadership was marked by investments in infrastructure, schools and hospitals with corresponding improvements in standard of living, literacy and life expectancy, most of it was dedicated to terrorizing and traumatizing the populace into submission, until they finally snapped, leading to the rebel movement that has toppled him.
Actually, the circumstances of Gadhafi's death were hazy there for a while, with speculation he'd even been caught in a NATO air strike, but the Arab television network Al Jazeera has aired footage, available on YouTube, that is quite persuasive that the rebels themselves got their man. Their stated goal was to capture Gadhafi and bring him to trial. It was not to be, and he died where he was born, in the coastal town of Surt. One son also was reportedly killed, and another - the notorious Seif - is in rebel custody.
At this juncture, all of the above is welcome news for those who believe a democratic Libya is possible. First, Gadhafi and his sons had to be out of the picture, definitively, to ensure the Transitional National Council could get the full support of the still-fearful Libyan people. So long as Gadhafi breathed, the political process there was "in a state of suspended animation," said Bruce St. John, a widely recognized authority on Libya whose work at Caterpillar over 30 years took him there, among other places, where he witnessed for himself that "horrible regime" - his own hotel room ransacked in the middle of the night, people forcefully plucked off the street and secreted away in unmarked cars, etc.
What follows is bound to be better - fingers crossed - though the likes of new Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Jalil have their work cut out for them. Indeed, Gadhafi left no political infrastructure to speak of, no organized military command, no political parties or unions. Libya limped along on a cult of perhaps crazy and certainly corrupt and cruel personality.
Nonetheless, St. John is optimistic, even impressed by what he's seen so far. In Benghazi, where the uprising against Gadhafi began, some 200 civic organizations of the type Gadhafi banned - including a "virtual explosion" of media outlets - have sprung up, he said. The rebel movement, after taking control of the capital Tripoli in August, is making visible strides toward the establishment of a governing body and elections to fill those seats. After what they've been through, St. John doesn't believe "they'll be satisfied with anything less."
Such developments should make many of the world's bad boys nervous. They've watched former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein deposed, captured, tried and executed; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ousted and jailed; now Gadhafi. If you're President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, or President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, you might want to sleep with one eye open.
Finally, St. John is among those who doesn't believe Libya would be where it is without U.S. intervention and leadership, despite all the second-guessing of the Obama administration for "leading from behind." This president has accomplished what his predecessors could not, first eliminating Osama bin Laden and now playing a significant role in making Gadhafi a global nemesis no more, the latter without the loss of even a single American life. "I think the U.S. has played it just right," said St. John.
In 1975 Gadhafi published his "Green Book," spelling out his personal political philosophy and dictating that it would be required reading in all Libyan schools and households. He wrote, in part, that "in the era of the masses, power is in the hands of the people themselves and leaders disappear forever." Looks like enough Libyans to matter took that lesson to heart and made this particular despot "disappear forever." Congratulations.