WASHINGTON -- Some weeks ago, when the comic/sinister Moammar Gadhafi was still roaming from desert hideout to city basement every night to avoid the Libyan rebels, a lawyer and I had an interesting conversation about that essentially uninteresting man.
"It would be a shame if he were killed in the battles," he said thoughtfully. "He'll certainly be captured in the next few days and he should be brought to trial by the Libyans."
"Oooh NO!" I said, in one of my more intractable vocal tones. "We can thank God if he is just killed by his own people and then they can put that whole period to rest." (Bringing God into it, I realize, had its downside, but I was in a bleak mood.)
At that point, the lawyer, one of the best, was shocked. "Don't you believe in the rule of law?" he demanded. "Don't you believe a man should be tried for his crimes, Gadhafi or anyone?"
I then shocked him further by saying that, yes, of course, I did believe that regular people in nations that HAD rule of law should certainly be tried and punished if found guilty. But, Moammar Gadhafi, no, no and NO.
The trial of such a beast of a man would only rile up his desert nation even worse than his decades in power. Different factions would claim him and defame him, until the factions entered into yet another civil war. He might even be let go to start his criminal playfulness elsewhere. In fact, after the change of government in Libya, so many weapons were taken to nearby Mali that the Tuareg tribesmen overthrew the democratic government there!
"It is better," I argued, without the slightest regret, "that he dies in the civil war. That way, he is out of the way and the Libyan people do not have to spend their next years trying to rid themselves of his evil." And that, of course, is what happened.
I don't think I will ever convince my friend of the practical cynicism I have learned in covering l8 wars, revolutions, rebellions, civil wars, militia actions, guerrilla fronts and other conflicts from one end of the world to the other. But look for a moment at just a few of the cases that have been brought up at the International Criminal Court at The Hague -- cases that easily parallel what Gadhafi would have done.
-- One of the great savage torturers of this generation was former President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. After starting vicious ethnic wars to install his Serbs as today's "ubermenschen," Milosevic was finally sent by a new Serbian government to The Hague. There, for three years, representing himself in court, he shouted, screamed and made a farce of the court before he finally died of a heart attack, his case never judged.
-- The trial of another Serb war criminal, Vojislav Seselj, one of the very worst of the militia commanders, has now begun -- NINE years after his arrival in The Hague. During this time, he has, like so many of the others, represented himself, which allows him to insult the judges, sing bawdy songs, harangue the lawyers and provoke, provoke, provoke. During the 1990s wars in the Balkans, in which hundreds of thousands died, it was Seselj who voiced the immortal words that he would like to carve the Bosnians' eyes out with dirty spoons.
-- The New York Times, one of the few media outlets to cover the U.N.-formed court at all, reported recently: "In The Hague, former President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast awaits trial at the International Criminal Court, where a warrant for the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan is still outstanding. The verdict for Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is due this month, and the trial of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, is expected to start in May."
These are the kinds of guys the court has to listen to day, after day, after day. If these be courts of law, one needs to wonder whether the law has become a trollop.
These are obviously complicated situations, but the one thing they are NOT is justice. For starters, no one should be allowed to be his own lawyer. Other ways of judging terrible leaders have worked better -- local trials in Tanzania of Rwandan mass murderers have been largely successful. Laws giving judges far more power should be strongly considered.