For once, a fitting end: Justice both done and seen to be done in the streets of Sirte. Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, after no less than 42 years of brutal, corrupt, despotic, vicious and murderous abuse of power, was hauled from his last hiding place by a raging mob of “his” people, beaten to a pulp and gunned down like the not-mad-but-truly-bad dog that he was.
The last pictures show it all – The same unforgettable glint in the eyes reflecting disbelief mixed with terror that Nicolae Ceausescu had when he was hauled off to be unceremoniously shot on Christmas Day, 1989 after nearly a quarter century of abusing the long-suffering Romanian people.
Qaddafi would hardly have known, but he met his own miserable, pathetic end on the day Simhat Torah – “The Rejoicing of the Law”, the most joyous day of the religious Jewish year, is celebrated in Israel.
Were the spirits of the 11 Israeli Olympic athletes, kidnapped on his orders by a Black September terror team and murdered in cold blood on a German airfield, looking down in harsh contempt as he met his end?
And were the 270 victims of Pan Am 103, the American airliner blasted out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 sitting in heavenly judgment as he met his last moments in abject terror?
Of course they were.
Did Qaddafi himself finally realize that his ceaseless attempts to survive lower than a rat had come to an end?
Did he understand that four decades of tortures and betrayals, rapes and murders, the screams, dying curses and enduring hatreds of the many thousands of his victims in the torture chambers of Tripoli were about to catch up on him?
Those last photos beamed around the world on Thursday show that he did.
Those iconic pictures unforgettably capture the face of an evil creature run to earth who knows that after a lifetime of torture and treachery he has run out of stratagems and there is nowhere else to go. This is the face of a man who knows he does not have to fly to Samarra to have a rendezvous with death. It has hunted him down in his last rat-hole in Sirte.
He who rose so high and reigned so long lacked any pretense at dignity or courage at the end. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” were the last reported words of the absurd, vain arrogant little tyrant. He will be forever defined by them through the endless corridors of history.
How long did Qaddafi grovel in that tunnel until he was hauled from it kicking and screaming. What were his last thoughts as he was yanked off the bonnet of that car by his hair to be blown away like the worthless excrement he was?
We find the answer in one of the classic texts of Western literature: the portrait of the medieval English tyrant-king and child-murderer Richard III as creatively imagined by the greatest of all dramatists, William Shakespeare.
In the concluding scene of his masterpiece “Richard III,” Shakespeare envisages Richard the night before he was slaughtered at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
Previously, Richard has never shown the slightest symptom of remorse, guilt or even fear that any of his endless, monstrous crimes, most of them gloated over and savored at the time, will ever come back to haunt him. But on this one last night, haunt him they literally do, as the ghosts of all his victims come to visit as he lies alone in his tent, dreading the inexorable justice that is finally about to catch up with him.
Now Richard, who had previously despised the emotion of mercy as fit to be experienced only by contemptible victims who deserved to be slaughtered, cries out for pity and forgiveness. But it is of course far too late. As he himself recognizes, judgment hour has come.
“The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.
“Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh …
“I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
“And if I die no soul will pity me:
“And wherefore should they since that I myself
“Find in myself no pity to myself?
“Methought the souls of all that I had murder’d
“Came to my tent, and every one did threat
“To-morrow’s vengeance on the head of Qaddafi.”
Martin Sieff is former Managing Editor, International Affairs of United Press International. He is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.”