Gaddafi's Brutal End and his Confused Legacy

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Ben Cohen
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The leader de facto of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.

The autopsy report from Libya:

Muammar Gaddafi's body has a bullet in the head and a bullet in the abdomen, a medical source told Reuters on Sunday.

Earlier, a doctor involved in an overnight autopsy on the former Libyan leader's body told Reuters he had died from a gunshot wound.

"There are multiple injuries. There is a bullet in the abdomen and in the brain," the medical source said.

The postmortem was carried out at a morgue in Misrata. Local officials said Gaddafi's body would be brought back to the cold storage facility at a market in Misrata where it has been on public display.

I'm finding it difficult to weigh in with an opinion on Gaddafi's death. The former Libyan leader certainly was no angel, but his legacy is a mixed one and it is not necessarily fair to condem his rule in its entirety (for a brief overview it's worth checking out this article, and this longer one to get a basic understanding of his complex leadership over Libya). Gaddafi was still wildly popular with vast sectors of the Libyan population and his militant stance against Western imperialism was widely respected around the world. He could be brutal and repressive, yet generous and inspiring at the same time. Gaddafi brought economic prosperity to Libya, largely by refusing Western oil companies the right to exploit Libya's resources, and was always on hand trying to prevent the same in other African nations. Gaddafi was feared as a leader but respected as a revolutionary. He was a bizarreconundrum of contradictory traits that manifested itself in a confused premiership that spanned 42 years. He killed many people, yet spent millions promoting peace initiatives, anti poverty programs and safeguarding human rights.

With the onset of the Arab Spring, it was clear that his time was up and Gaddafi could have gone gracefully into exile without sending his country into civil war. He chose not to, and he paid the price with his life. As they say, you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

The problem with assigning Gaddafi a definitive label is that we are too used to viewing foreign leaders as 'good guys' or 'bad guys' according to how useful they are to us. Saddam Hussein was an ally and a good guy until he threatened our oil supply, and so was Gaddafi until it became apparent he no longer could control his country.

The media dutifully regurgitates the official government line without question, making debate close to impossible. Anyone arguing Gaddafi's merits has been labelled a terrorist loving communist, despite the fact that only a year ago he was viewed a critical ally in the war on terror.

Any dictator is by definition a bad one, but some are more complex than others and it is worth examining their legacies honestly rather than repeating government propaganda.

Gaddafi's history isn't black and white, and neither should our analysis of it be.

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