Kaddafi’s killing raised again the question of how revolutionaries aspiring to democracy should treat evil dictators. Brutal dictators are often paranoid and usually commit their crimes in three different contexts: 1) by committing war crimes in savage wars against other countries; 2) by using extreme violence in civil wars among their own people; and 3) through the brutal persecution and starvation of his own citizens.
Ranking dictators in terms of brutality is usually done by counting the number of dead outside the battlefield. For instance, the atrocities committed in Portugal by Napoleon’s armies, although enormous in terms of body counting were much less than the number of those killed in the battlefield. On the contrary, the number of those killed by the Red Army during the Chinese civil war was less than those killed through famine and persecution by Mao Tse Tung during the so-called “great leap forward” and “cultural revolution”. So, not surprisingly, Mao often tops the list of the bloodiest dictators, among the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.
Obviously, not all dictators end up killed like Kaddafi. Some manage to die in bed and remain venerated by their followers or descendents, as in the case of Mao, Pol Pot and Kim il-sung. Others commit suicide before being arrested, as Hitler did. Some fled or were sent into exile (like Napoleon or Idi Amin). A small minority end up being judged by a domestic or an international tribunal. Of these some are condemned to capital punishment (like Saddam Hussein) and others to long imprisonment terms.
Long term imprisonment should be the normal outcome in democracies that abhor the death penalty. It would prove the superiority of democratic justice and provide a deterrent and educational role. Yet there are very few dictators that ended up this way.
The fact that victors prefer the elimination of the defeated is the result of either revenge or fear of a comeback. None are democratic virtues.
If Kaddafi had been delivered to the ICC, his trial could provide important revelations on how he corrupted many regimes throughout the world. For the sake of transparency, it is important that NATO and the new Libyan authorities conduct honest investigations on why he was not kept alive and brought to justice.