Ceausescu was in his helicopter, Saddam Hussein was hiding in a hole, Tunisia’s Ben Ali fled into exile, Qaddafi fled in a convoy and ended up hiding in a drainpipe. The autocrats escape, they leave, they don’t sacrifice themselves in the palaces from which they dictated their arbitrary laws; they do not die seated in the presidential chairs with a red sash across their chests. They always have a hidden door, a secret passage through which they can scurry away when they sense danger. Over decades they build their secret bunkers, their protected “ground zeros” or their underground refuges, because they fear that the same people who applaud them in the plazas can come for them when they lose their fear. In the nightmares of the dictators, the demons are their own subjects, the abyss takes the form of mobs who want to bring down their statues, spit on their photos. These despotic gentlemen sleep lightly, alert to the cries, the hammering on the door… they live with premonitions, often of their deaths.
I would have liked to see Muammar Qaddafi before a court, indicted for the crimes he committed against his country. I think the violent deaths of the satraps only gives them an aura of martyrdom they do not deserve. They must be left alive to hear the public testimony of their victims, to see their countries move forward without the hindrance they represented, and to observe the fickleness of the opportunists who once supported them. They must survive to witness the dismantling of the false history they rewrote, to see how the new generations begin to forget them,and to hear the diatribes, the scorn, the fiercest criticism. To lynch a despot is to save him, to offer him an almost glorious way out that spares him the lasting punishment of being judged before the law.
To continue the cycle of friction that these tyrants have sown in our nations is extremely dangerous. To kill them because they have killed, to attack them because they attacked us, prolongs the violence and turns us into beings like them. Now that the images of a bloodied and babbling Qaddafi are traveling the world, there is not a single totalitarian who is not afraid to stare into the mirror of this end. Now, the orders to reinforce the secret tunnels and to expand the escape plans must be circulating through more than one presidential palace. But take care, the dictators have many ways of escaping us and one of them is death. Better that they survive, that they stay and realize that neither history nor their people will ever absolve* them.
*Translator’s note: The concluding lines of speech Fidel Castro made in his own defense when on trial for the first act of the revolution, the July 26, 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks, were: Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.