October 22, 2011 in Nation/World

Crowds line up for look at body

Longtime dictator on display in refrigerated locker
Jeffrey Fleishman Los Angeles Times

MISRATA, Libya – His body lay pale in the half-light of a meat locker, head tilted to one side, blood streaking his chest. Men laughed and ridiculed him as the scent of onions rose deep in the souk.

In life, his specter was towering, but in death Moammar Gadhafi was diminutive, put on display along a row of butcher shops and vegetable stands. Boys and their fathers lined up for hundreds of yards outside the market’s gates as if going to a carnival to glimpse the man they once believed invincible.

“I want him to keep the face of a tyrant in his mind,” said Abdul Rahmen Swasi, pointing to his 11-year-old son, Mohammed. “We saw Gadhafi talking for so many years on TV. Blah, blah, blah. But now we see him dead.”

The line of men and boys, and a few girls, moved slowly along a fence until a man with a rifle opened a gate, letting in about a dozen at a time. Each whispered “God is great.” They hurried past onions drying in a stall and guards making tea. They turned the final corner and spotted the crowd at the meat locker’s door.

The guards laughed and took pictures. They wanted the world to see that no man can outrun his sins. As Swasi and his son drew closer to the door, they quieted. Other men and boys quieted too.

Swasi and his son pushed through the doorway into the room’s chill, hurrying past the bullet-marked corpse and out into the air of a country much changed since Thursday, when revolutionary fighters killed the man who had ruled Libya for decades in still unexplained circumstances in his hometown, Sirte.

The viewing was emotional and surreal but Gadhafi’s reign was often beyond imagination. It seemed fitting that Misrata, a city by the sea that was pummeled into a hallmark of Gadhafi’s brutality during a siege this spring, gave the leader – stripped to the waist, his once famous locks forlorn – his final humiliation.

“Yes, he’s gone,” said Nagwi Omar, “but I’m an old man. He took my youth.”

The United Nations on Friday called for an investigation into Gadhafi’s mysterious death. Cellphone videos show the former leader bleeding but alive when captured hiding in a drain pipe by fighters of the Transitional National Council. Later pictures show Gadhafi dead in the back of an ambulance. The council said he was killed in a crossfire, but some of the footage suggests he may have been executed.

“There seem to be four or five different versions of how he died,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. “There are at least two cellphone videos, one showing him alive and one showing him dead. Taken together, these videos are very disturbing.”

Gadhafi’s burial – reportedly to be in a secret place so his grave doesn’t become a shrine for loyalists – has been postponed until an investigation is completed.

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