State Dept. refuses to take position on lynching of Gaddafi: “It’s really up to the Libyan people to decide”

Daily Press Briefing with Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner, 21 October 2011:

QUESTION: Picking up on the word “cathartic” that you used, the UN high commissioner on human rights was saying that Qadhafi’s death has actually robbed his victims of a cathartic moment by seeing him in trial. Is that something that you all would have preferred, I’m assuming?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s not for us to state our preferences of what we would’ve liked to see happen. It is – events that took place yesterday, I think, point to a brighter future for the Libyan people. And as I said, they’ve emerged out of whatever you want to call it, a 40-year political coma. They’ve fought bravely to liberate their country from this dictator, and he met an ignominious end yesterday. But now the important challenges ahead are the – how the Transitional National Council establishes security and stability throughout the country and then moves them on a glide path towards a democratic transition.
QUESTION: Why would you have no preference on how you would’ve liked to have seen this taken place when the question pertained to a legal process versus a death under mysterious circumstances – which, by your own admission, you didn’t endorse any full account of how he died. Wouldn’t a legal process have been a better thing for everyone?

MR. TONER: This was a man who brutalized his people, who threatened to hunt them down like rats, who then, when Tripoli was liberated by the opposition, by the Transitional National Council after weeks and months of heavy fighting, then clearly retreated to Sirte, where he fought to the bitter end, and then fled Sirte, and there was a firefight of some sort.

But I mean, it is – we’ve long said about Qadhafi’s fate that it’s really up to the – he should be held accountable, but it’s really up to the Libyan people to decide. He decided his fate when he refused to step down.

QUESTION: Be that as it may, it’s up to the Libyan people to decide, shouldn’t – wouldn’t it be preferable that your – that it’s in a legal process where all accordance of rights are guaranteed, as opposed to all these questions we’re getting now?

MR. TONER: And again I would just say it – this was a decision by Qadhafi not to step aside, not to allow for democratic transition to take place, but rather to put countless lives at risk and to fight to the bitter end. And so what happened, happened.

QUESTION: But that [doesn’t] justify anything.

MR. TONER: I didn’t say it did. I just said that this is – he met his fate, but it was his decision.

Let’s look at the statement “it’s really up to the Libyan people to decide.” In 1959 after Castro came to power and executed Batista-era officials, I cannot for the life of me imagine the US stating that “it’s really up to the Cuban people to decide.” The same can be said about the mass executions carried out in revolutionary Iran against former officials of the Shah’s regime. Was that for the Iranian people to decide?

It is normally uncontroversial that the needless killing of an unarmed detainee is a crime that cannot be excused on any grounds. As recently as 2010 the State Department has stated that it condemns “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions against all persons, irrespective of their status.” The recent killings of bin Laden and Awlaki were justified to us on the basis that arrest or capture was not feasible. The US here had a chance to clarify that it condemns the summary execution of someone who was captured and posed no conceivable threat to anyone. It refused to do so. These are disgraceful times we’re living in.