The images were gruesome.
In one grainy video clip, a figure in a blood-soaked shirt who looks like Moammar Kadafi is manhandled behind a truck by frenzied fighters shouting, “God is great!” The man stumbles and appears to struggle against his captors.
In another clip, a shirtless body lies on the ground. Fighters roll it over to show what appears to be Kadafi’s bloodied face to cheering fighters.
The amateur videos that flashed across television screens and were uploaded to YouTube on Thursday suggest that Kadafi was alive when he was captured after fighters loyal to Libya’s provisional government overwhelmed the former strongman’s hometown of Surt.
What they do not show is how and why Kadafi was killed.
According to some accounts, he was shot by his captors. Officials from Libya’s provisional government said he was placed in an ambulance bound for the city of Misurata and either succumbed to his wounds or died in crossfire along the way.
Human rights activists said the footage raises troubling questions about the ability of Libya’s provisional leaders to ensure that those suspected of human rights abuses and war crimes are treated humanely and given fair trials.
Despite appeals by members of Libya’s Transitional National Council, there have been numerous reports of revenge attacks against suspected Kadafi supporters as fighters took control of loyalist strongholds. The fighters who led the assault on Surt came from Misurata, which endured a deadly siege by Kadafi loyalists earlier in the war.
London-based Amnesty International called on the provisional government in a statement Thursday to conduct a “full, independent and impartial inquiry” into the circumstances of Kadafi’s death.
“The new authorities must make a complete break from the culture of abuse that Colonel al-Kadafi’s regime perpetuated and initiate the human rights reforms that are urgently needed in the country,” Claudio Cordone, a senior director, said in the statement.
Ed Husain, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said the treatment Kadafi apparently received in the videos could lead to revenge attacks by his relatives and followers.
“What you’ve got here is essentially a man who’s not fighting back … therefore the killing would be seen as injustice,” Husain said. The footage also shows “real disrespect for the dead,” a grave insult under Islamic tradition.
“Arab tribes, and there are hundreds of those in Libya, are very proud people,” Husain said. “However much we may dislike him in the West, and some of his population might dislike him in Libya, his humiliation will be taken personally.... The question is: Will that then generate reprisal attacks?”