It all ended in a bloody showdown, one the former dictator had foreseen in his own peculiar mix of pathos and paranoia: "The correct action is confrontation," "death is a ... determined adversary," "I have resolved to escape to hell," Libyan revolutionary leader Moammar Gadhafi wrote in a book of short stories in the early 1990s. By then, he had already held onto power for over 20 years -- but that was still merely the midway point in his almost 42-year reign of tyranny.
On Oct. 20, 2011, at roughly 8:30 a.m. local time in the desert city of Sirte, the prophecy finally came true.
In the end, it appears the NATO troops caught wind of Gadhafi in what was to be his final bastion. There, with his still loyal forces, he had held out for two months against Allied airstrikes and an overwhelming rebel onslaught. Now he was aiming to abandon Sirte in a convoy of roughly 75 vehicles and head west -- apparently because he saw no other exit than to flee into the desert.
After French fighter jets launched an initial attack on the convoy, 20 vehicles -- which NATO says were "carrying a substantial amount of weapons and ammunition" -- broke away and turned south. The fighter jets continued their attack, destroying 10 vehicles and halting the exodus.
Though they could have transformed the remaining pickups into heaps of flames with the push of a button, the NATO pilots refrained from doing so. They didn't want to risk stealing the final victory from the Libyan anti-Gadhafi fighters who were already in hot pursuit of his fleeing forces.
'What's Going on Here?'
The tyrant was wounded, but he managed to make it out of his vehicle and take refuge in a drainage pipe on the side of the road, which was made of unadorned cement and measured about one meter (3.3 feet) in diameter. Ironically enough, the man who had vilified his enemies as "rats" was now surrounded and forced to crawl into a hole full of vermin. All that remained to him were a handful of bodyguards at his side and his golden pistol.
Umran Shaaban, a 21-year-old rebel fighter, says that he was not far from the pipe during the decisive moments. He describes how he ended up exchanging fire with and killing two Gadhafi loyalists and how the rest surrendered soon thereafter. He says that one of them said Gadhafi was there and wounded. "As I crawled into the pipe," Shaaban says, "I saw his frizzy hair and immediately rushed toward him."
At this point, Gadhafi was still alive, but he had wounds to his head and chest. "What's going on here?" he reportedly asked. "Don't shoot!" A group of rebels then dragged him out of his hiding place. They stripped him of his golden pistol and posed for pictures. One fighter said they also took one of Gadhafi's shoes, his satellite telephone, a brown cloth and a bag full of amulets. Unsteady images taken from a mobile phone show the dictator reeling, his hair stuck together in clumps from the blood running out of a gaping wound in his left temple. He is ringed by rebel fighters. One pulls his hair while others beat on him. Dazed, Gadhafi wipes blood from his face. A rebel reportedly beat him with a rifle butt.
The rebels then loaded Gadhafi into an ambulance, which took the two-hour drive to the port city of Misrata, one of the particularly contested cities during the Libyan civil war. The ambulance was surrounded by roughly 100 rebel vehicles full of rejoicing fighters and their ceaseless calls of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great."
But Gadhafi never made it to Misrata alive.
Was Gadhafi Executed?
The official account claims that Gadhafi succumbed to his wounds en route. Still, there is some indication that he might have been executed: Images of the corpse show bullet holes in his forehead and temple. Forensic experts say the shots were fired from a short distance. A doctor who examined the body in Misrata says Gadhafi died from wounds to his head and stomach, which were caused by shots fired at close range. One rebel fighter claims that Gadhafi was shot with a 9-millimeter pistol.
On Sunday, Libya's chief pathologist confirmed that the Libyan dictator had died from a gunshot wound to the head. Dr. Othman al-Zintani, however, would not disclose any further details and left open any speculation about Gadhafi's final minutes. Responding to international pressure, Libya's interim government said Monday it would establish a formal inquiry into the circumstances of Gadhafi's death.
After his death, the corpse of the former tormenter was put on display in Misrata. People posed for pictures with Gadhafi's dead body. Stripped down to the waist, it was passed from house to house like a trophy until it finally arrived in the front room of a private residence in the so-called African Market on Friday.
An air-conditioning unit hung on the wall. The body lay on a thin mattress on the floor. The head was tilted a bit to the left, and the arms were laid close to the body, which was only covered by a pair of brown pants. At the entrance, people fought to get in. In a mix of voyeurism and the need for certainty, everybody wanted to get one last look of the body and take a picture of it.
The people are silent. They don't talk about what they've been through, about what they've seen. One of them has clearly experienced a lot despite his youth. Beneath his polo shirt, his left leg is wounded and only half of his right leg is there, its stump covered by a fresh, white dressing. Two men are supporting him. He gazes at Gadhafi's corpse. He had fought against Gadhafi, and the dictator had made him a cripple. But, now, he is the one who has survived -- not Gadhafi. He is the victor. Crouching next to him is a man wearing a uniform. He spreads two fingers into a victory sign and holds them up to the dead dictator's face.
With all the hatred that has been bottled up over the years, such events are understandable. But they also squander a major opportunity. Since the dictator will never stand trial, there will likely be no fundamental coming to terms with the past. Likewise, the way the revolutionaries have treated Gadhafi's corpse has also cost them a bit of the moral superiority they enjoyed vis-a-vis the old regime.
'Significant Damage' to Germany's Standing in the World
These are the rebels who dared to rise up against Gadhafi eight months ago, the rebels politically represented by the National Transitional Council. They have attained their goal. But France, the United Kingdom and the United States, which led the Europeans in the campaign against Gadhafi's regime, can also feel like victors. With their airstrikes, the Allies blocked the massacre that Gadhafi threatened to inflict on the residents of Benghazi in February.
In March, to provide a legal basis for its military intervention in Libya, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which authorized the international community to establish a no-fly zone in Libya and to "take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs." Ten members approved the resolution and five abstained, with Germany finding itself in the rare company of Brazil, India, China and Russia. Germany's abstention was widely viewed as an affront.
The public face of Germany's refusal to back the resolution was Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. And one of his loudest critics was one of his predecessors in that position. In an interview with SPIEGEL from late August, ex-Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer condemned the move as "a one-of-a-kind debacle and perhaps the biggest foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany," adding that it had " significantly damaged" Germany's standing in the world.
The Western powers generously interpreted their mandate and served as the rebels' de facto air force in the battle against Gadhafi. They clandestinely provided the rebels with military advisers and, most likely, also weapons -- with the discernable goal of bringing about regime change in Tripoli.
A War Backed by Most of the Middle East
Off the record, such action is justified by the Allies as being the only real way to fulfill the resolution's demand for "all measures to protect civilians." And success has shown that they were right. But only one factor allowed the campaign to enjoy a political triumph: the fact that -- in sharp contrast to the war launched against Iraq in 2003, which was justified with lies and not backed by a UN resolution -- this time around, London and Washington could be confident that they had almost the entire Middle East behind them. Indeed, even the Arab League approved the no-fly zone against Gadhafi's military forces, as did the states belonging to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In fact, two countries from the region -- Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- even participated in combat operations.
In any case, since last Thursday, only one thing has been certain: the "Brother Leader," the "Guide of the Revolution," the megalomaniac and feared dictator who was long a pariah and then a partner of the West is now history.
When news of Gadhafi's death started making the rounds, all of Libya erupted into a collective state of rejoicing. In the Radisson Hotel in Tripoli, the receptionists were dancing on their reception desks, and an endless stream of people flowed into the celebration -- whether they were men wearing uniforms or jeans or women veiled or unveiled. They clapped, they sang, they laughed. "Finally, we are truly free," one yelled. And they continued to shout Gadhafi's insulting nickname: "Shafshufa! Shafshufa!" ("crazy hair"). Some even made their way downtown to what was formerly known as "Green Square" but has now been redubbed "Martyrs' Square" wearing red lipstick and wigs in mockery of the people they had feared for so long. Indeed, Libya seems to be celebrating a sort of carnival -- but it's also a bit like an exorcism, an attempt to drive the evil spirits away.
A Visionary and a Mass Murderer
Dr. Ahmed Kara gets a jolt during his office hours. At the moment, he is treating a woman in his psychiatric clinic for depression caused by war-related trauma suffered in recent months. Outside the window, one salvo of gunfire follows the next. "Fuck you!" he yells. He hates the randomly aimed shooting. Just yesterday, someone he knew died after being hit by a stray bullet fired by one of these would-be tough-guys. "It's frightening," he says. "They all feel like John Wayne now just because they have rifles."
Many of Kara's patients are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They have seen the bodies of limbless dead children lying in the streets. Though they have many needs, gunfire isn't one of them -- even if it's only in celebration.
The doctor has only just learned that Sirte has fallen. Then, that rebel forces have captured Gadhafi. Then, that he is dead.
He turns on the television and sees images of the tyrant. Yes, that's him. That is the man responsible for the suffering of so many of his patients.
'The Guy Is a Psychopath'
He is often asked what makes Gadhafi tick, says the doctor. Then he pulls out a piece of paper and draws a line in the middle. "This," says Kara, "is normal." He draws two additional lines that extend from the middle. "These are the ones that diverge slightly, the borderline cases." Then he draws three lines along the edge of the paper. "And here, on the extreme edge, there are only very, very few truly evil, deeply disturbed individuals. We don't know much about them." There is only one every few decades, says Kara. He mentions Stalin, Hitler -- and Gadhafi.
The Libyan is a historical personality, an international political figure like no other -- one who mercilessly exploited his people, and yet was apparently deeply convinced that they loved him. He was a man who always felt that Libya was too small for him, and that he was destined to play in the Champions League of world leaders.
"The guy is a psychopath," said former Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, who predicted in 1978 that Gadhafi would die an early death at the hands of assassins. But the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was wrong. For it was he who was assassinated, and not the Libyan. Former US President Ronald Reagan characterized Gadhafi as "this mad dog of the Middle East" whose bloody deeds must be stopped after it emerged that the Libyan leader was behind the 1986 deadly bombing of a Berlin discotheque frequented by American soldiers. Reagan retaliated by ordering air strikes against targets in Libya, including the devastating bombing of Gadhafi's military compound in Tripoli. The colonel survived. In fact, he survived eight US presidents and six German chancellors ever since he and a group of young officers deposed the aged King Idris in a bloodless coup in 1969.
It was always easy to dismiss this man as a clown of the international political stage, with his fantasy uniforms, his extravagant female bodyguards and his shrill one-liners. There is a tendency to reduce him to his periodic escapades of almost extraterrestrial outlandishness, such as when he celebrated his coronation as the "King of Kings" of Africa with a kind of toy crown -- or when he claimed that he had "overcome all the world's economic and social problems" in his rambling work, the "Green Book."
It doesn't do his role justice, though, to limit him to his peculiarities -- to the ubiquitous desert tents and camels at state visits, or the operetta-like array of medals. Gadhafi was an eccentric, an erratic man, an egomaniac. But he was also a visionary and a mass murderer -- one with many secret and cynical friends, especially in the West. And he didn't simply emerge from the mists of history like a random grain of sand in a desert storm.
A Burning Interest in History
Gadhafi's grandfather was among the 100,000 Libyans who were killed in the struggle against the brutal Italian colonial occupation. Italy's reviled fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, spoke contemptuously of the North African country as "a big box of sand" and gave himself the provocative title "Protector of Islam." The foreign rulers deliberately prevented Libyans from rising into positions of leadership. There was no general education system. Life revolved around the clan, herding goats, and the nomadic search for watering holes -- and it was no different for the young boy who was born in 1942 in a village near Sirte.
Even as a child, Gadhafi stood out by his ambition and his burning interest in history. He despised the rule of the foreigners and wanted to take revenge on the Italians for the humiliations suffered at their hands. The young Libyan also deeply admired Egyptian General Gamal Abdel Nasser, an outsider like Gadhafi, who, against all odds, managed to overthrow the monarchy in Cairo and rise to power. The often ridiculed "goat herder" realized that the military was his only chance to rise above his station in life.
In his early days as a revolutionary leader, he was heralded by many in the Third World as a kind of Arab Che Guevara. He sounded intriguing with his firm conviction that education should be free, that housing should not be used to earn money and that the people should rule in a kind of socialist-Islamic state. It soon became clear, however, that Gadhafi was not seeking a third, liberal path between capitalism and communism: He used the tenets of his political philosophy to cement the absolute rule of his family clan. Only his minions benefited from the country's enormous oil revenues. "I have created Libya, I can also destroy it," he said in one of his bizarre desert tent interviews.
Time and again, he tried to unite neighboring Arab states, and later also central African countries, in an empire under his rule. When that failed, he began to finance virtually every terrorist organization in the world, from Northern Ireland's IRA and Germany's Red Army Faction, to Colombia's FARC and the Palestinian Black September network. He saw them all as underdogs fighting a legitimate struggle against the powers that be.
In addition to oppressing his political opponents with extreme brutality, both at home and abroad, he instigated the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The US air raids on his residence both depressed him and spurred him to renewed action. Indeed, although he vehemently denounced Reagan's attack on Tripoli, for Gadhafi what was even more insufferable than being punished by the superpower was to be simply ignored by it: "How should I behave as the only healthy person in this sick world?"
A Spectacular Turnaround
The CIA's discovery of his plans to build nuclear weapons gave him an opportunity to make a spectacular turnaround in 2003. The revolutionary leader renounced all weapons of mass destruction and allowed this to be verified by international inspectors. He paid the families of the Lockerbie victims a total of $2.7 billion in compensation. He bought his way, so to speak, back into the international community, which welcomed him with an almost alarming degree of enthusiasm: business as usual.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi became a "dear friend" and French President Nicolas Sarkozy rolled out the red carpet for him during a state visit to Paris. This was followed by deals with London and Berlin, and the cynical Bush-Cheney administration even flew suspected terrorists to Tripoli, where they could be subjected to "enhanced" forms of interrogation. Only Switzerland tentatively took on the despot. The Swiss arrested his son Hannibal on charges of violent behavior, but released him two days later. Gadhafi was so outraged, however, that he called for a jihad against the Alpine republic and urged the UN to abolish the country and divide it among Germany, France and Italy.
The revolutionary leader, notorious for his torture chambers, even managed to get his country elected to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2010 -- despite the fact that he had proven himself to be a provocateur of the worst kind during a speech delivered to the UN General Assembly just a few months earlier. He called the UN Security Council a "terror council," tore pages from the UN Charter and declared that Israel was the root of all evil in the world -- as well as being responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Nevertheless, he referred to the African-American US President Barack Obama as "our son". Afterwards, he carved his name into the lectern.
When the Arab Spring swept from power the authoritarian regimes of Tunisia and Egypt in February 2011 and resistance began to stir in Libya, Gadhafi cracked down on his opponents with maximum brutality. He never did entirely trust his Libya and, as an eternal son of the desert, he harbored an even greater mistrust of city dwellers. "Yes, I love and fear the masses," he wrote in his prophetic book. "The tyranny of one man is the most infamous of all tyrannies, but the despot is a man who the community can eliminate -- in fact, even an insignificant individual can accomplish this."
First, the eastern part of the country fell, and Benghazi became the internationally recognized capital of the opposition movement. Then fell Misrata, and finally the capital. Gadhafi still managed to put in a few memorable performances. He appeared once with an umbrella in his hands and, always aggressive, was determined to "fight to the last drop of blood" against the "traitors." Then he disappeared from sight in late August, and was only heard from occasionally via audio messages smuggled to Syria. Some claimed that they saw him on the Algerian border, while others suspected that he was already living in exile.
But this time he kept his word: He remained with his last loyal supporters and never lost his faith in a turn in the military tide. Or, in his desire for historic greatness, he consciously sought a heroic end, not realizing that, in view of his horrendous record, not many would see him as a "martyr." "Sometimes death is cowardly and stabs from behind or lurks hidden in the earth. In my escape to hell, I have snatched my soul from you," he prophetically wrote in his surreal style of prose two decades ago.
Patching Together a World View
It was only logical that he would retreat to Sirte for his final stand. Gadhafi's home was not the city on the coastal road, an urban conglomerate of 130,000 inhabitants, but rather a deserted spot more than half an hour's drive into the desert, along a sandy track that winds through the rolling hills. The ensemble of tents -- old patchwork ones and new ones anchored with concrete pillars -- is easily recognizable on satellite images. This is where he resided and received his guests, including SPIEGEL reporters, most recently in April 2010.
Gadhafi preferred to sit in his drafty old tent than in the air-conditioned new one, reclining on white plastic chairs and fanning the flies away from his face with a palm frond. But he always had his computer. The Bedouin was also a news freak who apparently patched together his world view from clichés and conspiracy theories from the Internet.
In Sirte, a lackluster and well-maintained city, now largely destroyed in the wake of the fighting, the colonel had a conference center built in the early 1990s -- a complex that was much too big for the city, yet rather modest compared to his pan-African ambitions. It is here that Gadhafi put in his last big international appearance, precisely one year ago, in October 2010: In the final photo taken at a summit of the Arab League, he can be seen in the first row joking with Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh. Three of these four men have been deposed, and the fourth, the Yemeni president, is desperately clinging to power.
Will Ideological Differences Resurface?
After eight months of fighting, the conquest of Sirte marks the final end of the geographical division of the country. On Sunday, Libya's official liberation was announced. Ironically, however, this also puts pressure on the National Transitional Council, which has always suffered from internal tensions. The Council members were forced to unite to remove the tyrant and his clan from power. Now that this mission has been completed, previously recognizable ideological differences could resurface among the country's new leaders. Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, a former economic adviser to Gadhafi who now intends to withdraw from frontline politics, warned of the "chaos" that could erupt.
The Council intends for the transformation process to lead to democratic elections within about eight months. But it remains totally unclear whether such a timetable is realistic. In Libya, where four-fifths of the population have only known Gadhafi as the country's leader, there have never been political parties, trade unions or an independent judiciary. Nobody knows what a future constitution should look like, or what role religion will ultimately play in the new state.
Demands for Political and Economic Influence
Gadhafi brutally suppressed the Islamists. Now, however, the perhaps most popular rising star in Libya is the rebel commander and Afghanistan veteran Abdel Hakim Belhaj who -- after being detained in American and Libyan prisons, and subjected to severe torture -- has allegedly renounced jihadism. It is in large part thanks to the heroic fighting of Belhaj's elite unit that Tripoli fell relatively quickly into rebel hands. By contrast, the men from Benghazi are widely seen as lackeys of the West.
The diverse tribes who have made sacrifices to obtain victory will now also demand political and economic influence. But perhaps the most pressing problem is the huge number of rifles and pistols that have been distributed throughout the entire country. The Transitional Council has largely abandoned its attempt to disarm the militias. Nobody seems to know the whereabouts of hundreds of portable surface-to-air missiles, which can even be used to shoot down passenger airliners.
The experts on Libya only agree on one point: The West should refrain from making suggestions or giving the impression that it wants to dictate the future of Libya -- even at the risk of allowing the Islamists to become stronger than Washington, Paris or Berlin feel comfortable with.
In a rare poetic outburst, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi commented on Gadhafi and his end with these words: "Sic transit gloria mundi" -- thus passes the glory of the world. Along with certain other Western politicians, Berlusconi must also fear that a number of unpleasant surprises lie buried in the archives in Tripoli. What's more, perhaps Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, who the rebels claim to have wounded and captured on Friday, will decide to talk.
An unfinished novel by Gadhafi is also allegedly buried under the ruins. Libya's tormentor reportedly told his Italian biographer that he has called it "Death and Resurrection." That sounds like a threat.
Reported by BASTIAN BERBNER, ERICH FOLLATH, BARBARA HARDINGHAUS, CHRISTOPH REUTER AND BERNHARD ZAND
Translated from the German by Josh Ward and Paul Cohen