CAIRO – Days after the death of Moammar Gadhafi, his corpse has become the subject of a macabre dispute as Libyan interim authorities squabble over where and how to bury him.
The deposed dictator’s body remained on display Saturday in a walk-in freezer in the western city of Misrata, drawing hundreds of Libyans who donned surgical masks against the growing stench of his decomposing remains.
International human rights groups pressed for a fuller explanation of how Gadhafi and his son Muatassim died after being captured alive Thursday.
The National Transitional Council, Libya’s provisional ruling authority, hasn’t announced an investigation. The council also hasn’t agreed on how or where to bury the former leader. It promised more details today, when it’s expected to announce formally the liberation of Libya.
Human Rights Watch said in a news release Saturday that evidence related to Gadhafi and his son indicates “that they might have been executed after being detained,” a possible war crime under international law.
Human Rights Watch interviewed a revolutionary commander who said things “got out of control” after Gadhafi’s capture, suggesting he’d been killed in the chaos.
“There is ample evidence to open a credible investigation into the deaths of Gadhafi and his son Muatassim,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Finding out how they died matters. It will set the tone for whether the new Libya will be ruled by law or by summary violence.”
Video footage showed that Gadhafi survived a NATO attack on his convoy and died later in the custody of revolutionary forces, with conflicting accounts of whether he was executed or caught in crossfire.
Gadhafi’s tribe seeks the return of his body for burial in Sirte, his hometown along the Mediterranean coast. Some members of the council have proposed burying him in an unmarked plot at an undisclosed location, to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine for his loyalists. Other reports have said the council has discussed cremation or burial at sea, as in the case of al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, the Misrata revolutionary fighters who took home Gadhafi’s body are pushing to bury him in their city, which suffered a deadly months-long siege during Gadhafi’s campaign to crush the uprising. The involvement of its fighters in the siege is sure to strengthen the city’s bargaining hand as the council decides seats in the first post-Gadhafi transitional government.
Some Misrata figures reportedly were blocking an autopsy of Gadhafi, but on Saturday evening a coroner, Othman al Zintani, was dispatched to examine the bodies, according to a McClatchy special correspondent who met him in Misrata.
Zintani wouldn’t share his findings, but earlier reports, citing a death certificate he completed, said Gadhafi died of gunshot wounds to the head and stomach. On Saturday, news reports said the former leader’s corpse had been covered with a blanket and his wounds masked, unlike the first day of public viewing, when he was stripped half-naked with crimson wounds visible on his body.
The two-day public display of Gadhafi’s corpse goes well beyond just providing video and photographic evidence of his death, and a few Libyans are complaining that the dramatic victory of his capture has now turned into a rather unseemly sideshow. There’s also discomfort with the handling of the body because Islam mandates burial as soon as possible and many clerics oppose autopsies.
Many more Libyans argue that nothing’s wrong with broadcasting images of Gadhafi’s body, explaining that it’s cathartic to see firsthand how the colonel who played an almost supernatural role in the country for four decades was, at his end, just a balding man in his late 60s.
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