Denied post mortem imagery of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, the world now has at its disposal photographs of Muammar Qaddafi, dispatched with a bullet to the head after being wounded by NATO’s ground troops outside Sirte. Did the terminal command, Finish Him Off, come via cell phone from the US State Department whose Secretary, Hillary Clinton, had earlier called for his death, or by dint of local initiative? At all events, since Qaddafi was a prisoner at the time of his execution, it was a war crime and I trust that in the years of her retirement Mrs. Clinton will be detained amid some foreign vacation and handed a subpoena.
My friend and neighbor in Petrolia, Joe Paff, wrote a response to a dreadful story about Qaddafi’s killing on Yahoo’s site, commenting “This kind of gloating is bound to come back and bite your butt. Imagine how many people in the world would like to see Netanyahu or Obama dragged from their hiding holes and tortured. It will take about six months for everyone to regret the ‘new’ Libyan ‘democrats’.”
Yahoo’s initial electronic response was to write to Joe, “Oops! Try again.” So he checked “post” a second time. Yahoo then rewrote his comment, complete with misspellings, stripped of any mention of Netanyahu or Obama, and “posted” it, as “This is the kind of gloating that comes back and bites you on the butt. Just imagine how many peopel in the world would like to see Americans dragged through the streets and tortured to death.” As Joe wrote me, “Just another small episode in artificial intelligence and the present taboos.”
I suppose the first triumphalist imperial post mortem photo of such an execution in my lifetime I can recall is that of Che Guevara, killed on the CIA’s orders at La Higuera in Bolivia on October 9, 1967. Perhaps Che’s finest hour came with his leadership of the Cuban anti-imperial forces deployed in Africa, defeating South African and white mercenary forces in one of the greatest acts of revolutionary solidarity the world has ever seen.
Qaddafi, even in his latterday accomodationist phase, was always a bitter affront to Empire — a “devil” figure in a tradition stretching back to the Mahdi, whose men killed General Gordon in the Sudan in 1885. I remember fondly the leftists and Republicans who trekked to Tripoli in the 1960s to appeal to Qaddafi for funds for their causes, some of them returning amply supplied with money and detailed counsel.
Dollar for dollar I doubt Qaddafi has a rival in any assessment of the amount of oil revenues in his domain actually distributed for benign social purposes. Derision is heaped on his Green Book, but in intention it can surely stand favorable comparison with kindred Western texts. Anyone labeled by Ronald Reagan “This mad dog of the Middle East” has an honored place in my personal pantheon.
Since we’re on the topic of imperial executions, let us not forget October 17, 1961. Last week saw the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre in Paris of hundreds of Algerians by the French riot police. Called by the FLN, the Algerians had mustered from their neighborhoods and bidonvilles to central Paris in support of the Algerian war of liberation, then six years old. Algeria, remember, was, in formal terms, a French department.
Centering on the Charonne metro station, the French riot police attacked with lethal savagery, battering and shooting peaceful demonstrators to death and throwing their bodies into the Seine. Corpses were later dragged from the river as far downstream as Le Havre. These days the death count is reckoned as at least 300, some of the victims murdered in detention centers around Paris. The French Interior Minister of the time in De Gaulle’s government was Maurice Papon. In 1981 , the French weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné published an article accusing Papon of having collaborated with the Germans during World War II. Papon was officially charged with crimes against humanity in 1983. His trial for overseeing the deportation of 1,690 Jews to a detention camp in the Paris suburb of Drancy did not take place until 1997. Papon’s role in the massacre of October 17, 1961, and indeed details of the massacre itself — long suppressed in French public memory — surfaced during his trial.
In February 1962 there was a huge protest demonstration about the October 17 massacre in Paris. Joe Paff and his wife Karen were recently in Paris, staying in the 20th at a hotel owned by French Algerians. The owner pointed to a photo of himself in the vanguard of the demo, remembering how he was astonished at the number of photographers eager to take his picture. Only years later did he realize that the man with whom he had linked arms was Jean-Paul Sartre.
The massacre has now been reconstructed in a documentary by Yasmina Adi, Ici on noie les Algériens, “Here one drowns Algerians,” words painted in red on the parapet of one of the bridges over the Seine.