After four days on public display in a meat locker here, the slowly decomposing corpses of Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi, one of his sons and his former defense minister were buried in a predawn funeral at a secret location on Tuesday, a top military official said.
The burial closed the book on Gaddafi’s nearly 42-year rule and the 8-month civil war to oust him, but did not silence international calls for an investigation into whether the widely despised tyrant was executed by his captors.
The three bodies had been held in cold storage in Misrata since the dictator and members of his entourage were captured near his hometown of Sirte on Thursday after their convoy came under attack by NATO. For days, Misratans had lined up to see the bodies, donning surgical masks to cover the stench from the bodies.
Two members of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) were reportedly entrusted with the burial in an unknown location – chosen to avoid the risk of the grave becoming a shrine for supporters or, more likely, being desecrated by vengeful opponents. The two officials are understood to have been sworn not to divulge the location.
The burials, which were also attended by more than a dozen officials from Misurata, did not quiet the lingering questions about the men’s final moments.
Over the weekend, Libya’s chief pathologist, Dr. Othman el-Zentani, performed autopsies on the three bodies and also took DNA samples to confirm their identities. El-Zentani has said Gaddafi died from a shot to the head, and said the full report would be released later this week, after he presents his findings to the attorney general.
Responding to international pressure, the Transitional National Council has said it would investigate his death: killing captives is considered a war crime.
Libya’s interim leaders have promised an investigation to establish whether Gaddafi was killed in an execution-style slaying after being captured alive Thursday by fighters in his hometown of Sirte or whether he died in the crossfire as government officials have suggested. Video footage showed him being beaten and abused by a mob after his capture.
On Tuesday, the interim government released a long statement that amplified the mixed feelings about the deaths. The council said it would “not tolerate” prisoner abuse, but then went on to detail Colonel Gaddafi’s crimes, including the killing of 1,270 prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in 1996 and the executions of Libyans overseas.
“We did not want to end this tyrant’s life before he was brought to court, and before he answered questions that have deprived Libyans from sleep and tormented them for years,” the statement said.
The Transitional National Council previously said Colonel Gaddafi was shot in the head during a gunfight between his captors and loyalists in Surt, without specifying who might have fired the fatal shot.
But there is little appetite among the Libyan revolutionaries for prosecuting the killer or killers of Colonel Gaddafi, whose death ended a brutal dictatorship and signified the end of the most violent of the Arab Spring’s political uprisings.
Pictures of his corpse continue to be published in Libyan newspapers and shown on TV. Freshly-painted graffiti on the streets of Tripoli – in Arabic and English – read: “Dictator Gaddafi sent a message to the Libyan people from hell, saying: ‘I am staying here.’ “
In a further disturbing development, images are circulating on the internet apparently showing Gaddafi being sodomised with a stick or metal rod while still alive. The footage was shot on a mobile phone and includes sounds of gunfire and shouts of “Allahu akbar.”
Col. Ahmed Bani, a spokesman for the Transitional National Council’s military wing, dismissed reports by Human Rights Watch and others of a massacre in Surt, possibly committed by anti-Gaddafi forces.
The people who died in Surt “were resisting our troops,” he said at a news conference in Tripoli, the capital. “They were killed during fighting.” He added: “Our fighters were just doing their duty.” [via The New York Times, Global Times, Huff Post and Guardian]