Vivienne Walt reports: Should Libyans care how Muammar Gaddafi died? As the debate continues over whether rebel fighters executed Gaddafi after capturing him — in violation of international rules of war — the issue has raised stark differences between Libya’s new leaders, who suffered for decades under a suffocating dictatorship, and the views of some of their closest Western allies.
In numerous interviews over the weekend in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi, not a single Libyan — including top officials of the new regime — expressed serious concern that Gaddafi might have been executed after being captured alive. Instead, the general feeling might best be summed up by Colonel Omar Hariri, a war hero, who had been a comrade-in-arms of Gaddafi during their coup in 1969, and who headed this year’s rebel military forces in eastern Libya. As Hariri greeted fighters returning to Benghazi from the front in Gaddafi’s birthplace of Sirt on Saturday, TIME asked him if he was concerned about how Gaddafi had died. “I don’t care, so long as he’s dead,” he said. In a separate interview on Sunday, the interim Finance and Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni — who told TIME he has been asked to be the new interim Prime Minister — said he felt “relieved” that Gaddafi had been killed.
The great majority of Libyans are rejoicing his death too. Libyans have emerged from a very long nightmare, in which two generations lived in terror under Gaddafi’s dictatorship. The details of how he met his end seem irrelevant to most of them. In death, Gaddafi has become an object of ridicule, as though he were just a pathetic old man, rather than their omnipotent ruler. The walls in Benghazi and Tripoli, which for years were plastered with portraits of Gaddafi as the untouchable leader, are filled with graffiti portraying him as a bushy-haired clown. And thousands of people have lined up to view Gaddafi’s bloodied and beaten corpse, which has been laid out since Friday in the cold-storage room of a food market in Misratah, about 150 miles (240 km) east of Tripoli.