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Brit suggested I write a diary to expand upon his, so I'll do so.  If you haven't read his yet it's here: Some brief background.  I work for a US-based non-profit organization and was in Benghazi developing a health-related proposal.  A taxi driver stole my passport.  Long story, but it was incredibly bad luck to lose my passport in one of the only nations on the planet without a functioning US embassy, and more than 1200km from Tripoli where there is sort of a US mission. Libya is an enormous country.  To paraphrase what Gertrude Stein once said about America, "There's more of Libya where nobody is than where anybody is, and this is what makes Libya what it is."  

The silver lining of all this, if there is one, is that I am in Tripoli waiting for a replacement passport, and have become an accidental witness to the celebrations at the end of this war. Follow me past the squiggle for some impressions of revolutionary Libya:

It's hard really to express how much the Libyans wanted Qaddafi gone, and the sense of excitement once the revolution started.  Imagine how you would feel if Bush were president for 40 years, but add to that a level of craziness and idiosyncrasy and arbitrary violence that far surpasses anything we Americans have ever had to deal with.  The normalization of paranoia and the penetration of the security state into everyone's lives is what just astounds me, and is so hard for us as Americans to really grasp. The Qaddafi-era Libyan Yellow Pages, in English, has page after page of overlapping security service numbers, as if any foreign visitor would need to call the foreign intelligence directorate in every city in Libya.  It would be funny if it wasn't deadly serious for so many Libyans.  And even after phone numbers for every possible security service, they toss in an all-purpose number for reporting "negative phenomena":


Once the revolution started, graffiti appeared overnight everywhere.  Here's some from Benghazi, and also what remains of the general security directorate, burned out on the first day of the revolution:

IMG_6334 IMG_6329

The Libyans say that Benghazi taught us to stand up and fight, Misrata taught us to persevere, and Jebel Nafusa (in the West) taught us to go on the offensive. But of all cities in Libya, Misrata has really borne the brunt of this war.  Perhaps nowhere was Qaddafi as hated, particularly after inflicting such massive loss of life and damage on the city.  I don't know whether people in Misrata are celebrating as hard as they are in Tripoli tonight, or whether they are still too shell-shocked and traumatized.  Misrata looks like an image of WWII, something way beyond the uprising we have been seeing on TV. The road leading into the city had street light poles down the center, and is lined with eucalyptus and pine trees.  The trees were shattered with bullets, and most of the street light poles were shot into Swiss cheese and just no longer exist.  I can scarcely imagine how much metal was flying through the air.  I don't need a lot of convincing that dictators should be overthrown... but Misrata, for me, makes the best case that Qaddafi would have slaughtered tens of thousands had NATO not intervened.

IMG_6378 IMG_6375

I heard this morning that Sirt had fallen and realized that I wouldn't be getting any work done or having any meetings given the fact that this meant the end of the war, and nobody could concentrate on anything else.  So I walked downtown to Green Square in the center of the city.  People had gathered before a dias, waiting for an announcement from the TNC.


While I was there, rumors swept through the crowd that Qaddafi had been captured, and then that he was dead.  There was a sort of direct correspondence between Al Jazeera updates and the volume of celebratory gunfire and car horns.  Everyone texts and Al Jazeera is on everyone's satellite dish, so news spreads incredibly rapidly.  I heard kind of a collective gasp and then cheers from a pizza place right off the square, packed by non-paying customers watching Al Jazeera.  Here on Daily Kos, we're used to writing things like "I can't say anything good about the man, but it diminishes me to cheer the death of another... I feel for his family", when sometimes we are actually thinking "Good. That son-of-a-bitch is dead".  The Libyans dispense with those formal niceties and just let it all out.  I hope I can maintain some decorum when Dick Cheney eventually dies, but the Libyans are not setting a very good example:


I walked past some guys sitting in the shade of some palm trees, smoking a water pipe.  They asked me to take their photo, so I obliged, but I wish I had the nerve to photograph the other guy with them under the palm trees.  He was enormously obese, and looked like the caterpillar in Alice and Wonderland, smoking a hookah.  He said in English "Gaddafi muthafucka destroy everything even he destroy himself.  You British?"  No, I answered, I'm from Chicago.  "Good!  Muthafucking Untouchables!"  How he knew about a 1960's TV series on prohibition, I will never know. The other image is of some hapless sheep paraded through the square, who are no doubt now part of some celebratory dinner.


Out by the harbor, soldiers would periodically blast off rounds of 50mm antiaircraft fire out over the Mediterranean.  I can't adequately convey just how loud these guns are. They even let this young woman climb up and shoot off a round, sort of the chaste Libyan equivalent of the sailor kissing his sweetie in Times Square NY in 1945:


I can't help but feel some of the euphoria and optimism in all this.  A revolution succeeded with some very smart and capable help by the Obama Administration and NATO, and whether one likes Sarkosy or not, you have to give him credit for doing the right thing.  Islamists and secularists alike greeted me, and thanked me for what the US and NATO did, even though I deserve none of the thanks merely for being a citizen.  I know that there's a long hard road ahead for Libya.  There is no civil society.  All those westernized, secular physicians and lawyers, and their daughters who look to Tunisia and the West, are going to have to deal with the Islamist movement here, which did much of the fighting and suffered horribly for it.  But for now, all Libyans appear united, and they are a bit amazed at what they have accomplished.  Our own coalitions will fragment, but I hope that the same feeling of victory comes to us as a result of OWS or whatever other action we have to take to reclaim our future and our democracy.  I am optimistic though... I think the Libyans will work it out, and I think we will as well.  


As a final note, let's please also remember Meteor Blades' family, who lost a young man who joined the rebels and was killed in Benghazi at the start of all this. His was one death of thousands. Libya is free tonight due to the courage of people like him, although that hardly seems adequate for the loss of a teenager and the fifty or sixty years he had ahead of him.


Well, I went out to get a bite to eat, and stopped at a little store to get a can of juice.  On the television there was a video clip of an injured, dazed and bloodied Qaddafi being tossed into the bed of a pickup truck, surrounded by rebel fighters.  There are conflicting reports suggesting that Qaddafi had been shot in the head.  If this turns out to be true, then the soldiers committed an extrajudicial execution and should be held to account in court.  I also saw the clip of his body being wrapped up in the morgue in Misrata, and while there was a lot of blood, I didn't see an obvious bullet wound to the head.  So we'll have to see, and I'm sure the information will come out soon one way or the other.

I think this adds a rather somber note to the celebrations of the end of a war.  Wars are brutal, horrible affairs.  Fighters on both sides have been accused of killing prisoners.  On the ride to Tripoli, I saw a Chadian prisoner tied up and in the back of a pickup truck, being transported to Misrata.  He was not visibly injured, but looked terrified.  If a prisoner makes it back from the front lines chances are he will not be tortured or killed, and the ICRC will be able to control abuses.  It's the immediate aftermath of being captured when so many of the abuses take place.  

If Qaddafi was executed and didn't bleed to death from his injuries, the National Transitional Council almost certainly did not order the killing and was likely powerless to stop it.  Many of the NTC leaders have said publicly and repeatedly that they wanted Qaddafi and his sons tried in Libya, not in foreign courts.  They have always emphasized that they should be tried.  But Libya is a fragmented society, and the rebel forces themselves are not particularly well controlled or commanded. There is the tradition of qisas - or revenge - which runs deep in Libyan society, especially the more traditional sectors where so many of the fighters have come from. If Qaddafi was executed, those responsible were not thinking about international law, or even their responsibilities toward other Libyans to bring Qaddafi before a court and allow all Libyans to participate in the judicial process.  Instead he (or they) were probably thinking about relatives or fellow soldiers who had been killed, and responded in a typical (and reprehensible) manner, by taking it upon themselves to revenge their loved ones or comrades.  

This is the nature of civil wars, and particularly revolutions.  I hope that the leadership is able to gradually create a civil society and a functioning government that has legitimacy, and that Libyans will grant monopoly over the use of force, and that will adhere to universal human rights norms. I'm still cautiously optimistic, and share the Libyan people's relief that the war is over.

Originally posted to ivorybill on Thu Oct 20, 2011 at 12:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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