Moammar Kadafi is a fitting target for the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court. Whatever one’s opinion of the court — and The Times’ editorial board has been divided on the subject — the charges lodged against the Libyan strongman and two relatives dramatize the worldwide condemnation of Kadafi’s war against his own people. He is now formally what he has been in fact since the Arab Spring came to Libya: an outlaw.
The grounds for the warrant, according to the court, are that Kadafi allegedly committed crimes against humanity — specifically murder and persecution. Judges said there was sufficient evidence that he, his son and his brother-in-law ordered the killing and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians in February.
But although the charges against Kadafi bring moral clarity to the discussion of his conduct, we’re sorry the court went through with them. We take this view not because of any particular doubts about Kadafi’s guilt but because the warrants against him and his relatives could complicate efforts to reach a political solution under which he would step down. The International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization that aims to resolve international conflicts, stated the problem clearly: “To insist that he both leave the country and face trial in the International Criminal Court is virtually to ensure that he will stay in Libya to the bitter end and go down fighting.”
A political solution is an option NATO and the United States should keep on the table, offensive as the idea of Kadafi enjoying a pleasant retirement may be.
In the absence of such a deal, it’s not all that unlikely that Kadafi would end up killed in one of NATO’s air raids. That would be too bad, partly because the NATO mission is ostensibly intended to protect civilians, but also because Kadafi is not Osama bin Laden, and his killing would no doubt lead to widespread criticism. Better to seek a negotiated settlement.
How to deal with dictators guilty of human rights abuses is a familiar dilemma, pitting those who prize justice above all against pragmatists who believe that exile for a despicable leader — even exile in comfort — is preferable to continued oppression and violence. There is no single right answer, but in the case of Libya, a political settlement that ensured the departure of Kadafi — international outlaw or not — would be justified.