If they find Gadhafi, what will they do with him?

Laura Rozen

As the Libyan rebels continue their hunt for Moammar Gadhafi, the United States has moved to distance itself from the search for Libya's four-decade-long ruler.

"Neither the United States nor NATO is involved in this manhunt," Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, told journalists at a press conference Thursday, Reuters reported.

"If attacks on civilians stopped, regardless of any individual, you know, it's those military missions that NATO is undertaking," Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told journalists Thursday. "Do you expect that every attack has been personally directed by him?"

But if and when Gadhafi is found, what are the options for dealing with him? And who gets to decide? Presumably, there are four scenarios: send him to face international war crimes charges in the Hague, try him in Libya, let him slink off to exile behind fortified walls in some country that would have him; or, finally, that he is killed in battle. (Gadhafi for his part vowed in an audio interview this week, as he has in the past, to fight "until victory or martyrdom.")

While some Libyan freedom fighters and anti-Gadhafi activists have expressed the preference that Gadhafi face justice--or rough justice--in Libya, the international community hasn't come to a consensus.

The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced in May that he was seeking arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam, and his lieutenant, the Libyan intelligence minister, Abdullah Senussi.

But last month, as the NATO-led campaign was in its fourth month with no clear end in sight, French officials said that it was conceivable under certain scenarios that Gadhafi could stay in Libya if he fully relinquished power. American officials, for their part, seemed to echo that, saying that Gadhafi had to step down, but whether he stayed or left the country was a matter for the Libyans to decide.

Human rights advocates acknowledge the desire of many Libyans to see Gadhafi tried at home. But some say--given that Libya's justice system is in shambles after 42 years of Gadhafi's rule--the most realistic and best option under the circumstances is for him to be sent to the Hague to face charges of war crimes.

"What we have been urging if they get these guys is to surrender them to the Hague," Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told The Envoy in an interview on Friday.

"I think justice tends to be more meaningful the more local it is," Roth continued. "In an ideal world they would try [him] in Libya." While theoretically the ICC could move the trial to Libya, security and other concerns probably mitigate against that, Roth said. What's most important, he said, is that the process be fair, and that it's not a kangaroo court.

"Justice done closer to home is more effective," said Mark Quarterman, a former United Nations official and post-conflict expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an interview with The Envoy this week.

"If the ICC is willing to defer part of its statute to permit holding the trials in the country if the process is credible," a trial in Libya is not inconceivable, Quarterman said, noting that the head of Libya's opposition National Transition council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, is a former Libyan justice minister.

The ICC is not set up, however, to provide technical assistance to help governments carry out such trials, he said.

"You could see people in Libya looking at Egypt now and seeing Mubarak and his sons put on trial and say, 'Do we really want to send these guys to the Hague?'" Quarterman said, referring to Egypt's ousted ruler Hosni Mubarak, whose trial in Egypt got underway in August.

"Dictators rarely go down in flames,"  Roth said, dismissing as bravado Gadhafi's pledge to die a martyr rather than surrender.

A more realistic concern, he said, is that Gadhafi would be summarily executed, especially given growing evidence of retributive violence committed by the rebels in Tripoli this week.