Moammar Gadhafi's death satisfies the understandable desires of Libyans for revenge. But questions remain about the manner of his death, and Libyans' interests would have been better served if he had been tried rather than killed.
Libyans can celebrate, for their country has a chance to rebuild. Colonel Gadhafi was a kind of authoritarian anarchist, laying waste to homegrown Libyan institutions and replacing them with his own creations, like undemocratic "people's committees" that served his whims.
The world, too, is better off now that it is rid of Col. Gadhafi's excesses – military adventurism in Chad, terror over the skies of Lockerbie, Scotland. He remained capable, even after his rapprochement with the West, of erratic behaviour that could threaten the security of those far beyond Libya's borders.
Col. Gadhafi governed by violence. He eliminated opponents, in open air stadiums and secret prisons. As his regime crumbled, he rounded up and summarily executed hundreds more. Here's what a 32-year-old Libyan named Ahmed Zaydan told the New York Times Magazine: "I want Gadhafi to die ... And not just to die once, but to die every minute, every hour. Because for 42 years, he was killing us every minute, every hour."
At what cost, though? Libyans are tasting freedom, but as long as the rule of law in the country is a fiction, they still live in tyranny. Innocent people are vulnerable to revenge attacks; detainees under supervision of the National Transitional Council have been tortured. Libya is a transitional society, gutted by a parasitic dictator and still in the throes of war, but the NTC must do better to stop vigilantism and deliver justice.
A National Transitional Council spokesman said, "We were serious about giving Gadhafi a fair trial. It seems God has some other wish." While the exact chronology has yet to be established, Col. Gadhafi's death was the wish of man, not God. Justice demanded better.
Col. Gadhafi's son and his head of military intelligence are wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The NTC and its backers must make sure that those men see justice at The Hague or at a competent Libyan court under ICC supervision, and not at the barrel of a gun. Lesser Gadhafi regime figures, too, must go on trial. Justice needs to be at the centre of the country's reconstruction.